When I first found out I was going to be a mother, I was excited about passing my wisdom to the next generation.
Not that I have a lot of wisdom, but the bit I have I was keen to pass down.
I imagined cold nights cuddled up by the fire (we don’t even have a working fire) when my child would ask me about the world.
I would say clever, mystical things and generally be very wise, like a character from a movie.
What I hadn’t counted on was that my child would need to start with a long lesson in the basics.
I imagined teaching my child about literature, science and geography, but I hadn’t realised we’d need to start at square one.
Long before I could tell her about C. S. Lewis, I would have to explain to her the basics of where to poop.
I’ve had to teach her many things so far, and not one of them has been wise or mystical.
One thing I’ve learned about having a toddler, is that it’s nothing like I thought it would be.
10 Things I Didn’t Think I’d Have To Teach My Child
Here are just 10 examples of things, not in the least bit wise, that I’ve had to teach my child:
Lesson #1: Don’t Pick Up Dog Poo
It was a warm sunny day, the sort of day most families spend picnicking in the park. Most families probably were at the park that afternoon, lounging around on woven picnic blankets as they scoffed strawberries and warm sandwiches.
I didn’t notice them, though, because I was too busy explaining to my toddler why it really wasn’t a good idea to pick up dog poo. Of course, a wise parent would probably have mentioned this before it happened. But not I.
As my daughter toddled along the path at the park, I strolled behind her, thinking about how proud of her I was for being so independent, and hadn’t I done a great job for raising such a brave young lady!
She occasionally bent down to inspect twigs or insects on the kerb, and I was enjoying the feel of the sun on my face. Then she turned round to give me something she’d found – no doubt a little treasure she had spotted along the way.
But not so much treasure, more dog poo. Yep, she was holding it in her hand.
That was the day I taught her not to pick up dog poo.
Lesson #2: The Acceptable Amount Of Toilet Paper To Use
My daughter was potty trained quite young, so she was comfortable on the toilet from the early days of toddlerhood. We had one of those little toilet seats that she could put on herself, and a stool she could use to climb onto the seat.
My daughter is an independent little girl and often wants to do things all by herself (like solving the problem of people not picking up after their dogs in the park, for example).
When she wanted to take charge of her own toilet paper, I let her (after all, who really wants that job?) and I didn’t always pay close attention (see the dog poo story above).
I would sometimes discover she had used only the tiniest scrap of toilet paper to wipe herself, and other times I would discover an entire roll of toilet paper dumped in the toilet, cardboard roll and all.
The problem with this is two fold: 1) tiny scraps of toilet roll are no good for cleaning up toilet messes, and 2) entire rolls of toilet paper block toilets.
So, after skilfully unblocking more toilets than I’d care to remember, I taught my daughter about the appropriate amount of toilet paper one uses in the bathroom.
Lesson #3: It’s Not Ok To Draw On Walls…
You reach a certain point in parenthood, and you think you’re safe from the terror of wall scribbles.
After all, if they don’t do it during toddlerhood, they’re not going to do it after that. It’s not like they’re tiny sociopaths or something, right? Wrong.
My daughter was three and a half when she scrawled on her bedroom wall. She drew a terrifying cross that looked a little bit Exorcist-like, just under her bedroom window. She also drew a matching one on her forehead. And then said the cat did it.
At this point, I had to sit down with my daughter and Bear, our cat, and explain why it’s not ok for any of us to draw on the walls.
Lesson #4: … Or Paint Handprints On Them
Unfortunately, my daughter is a pedant and clearly I hadn’t been specific enough in my directions.
Sure, she thought, I can’t draw on walls, but nobody mentioned anything about painting handprints on them.
One day, we had built a humungous cardboard igloo together in the playroom (it took up pretty much the entire room) and we were busy painting it. We had sponges, paintbrushes, stickers, and felt tips, and we were decorating the hell out of that igloo.
It was covered in tiny ice-blue handprints and it looked great. Everything was going well, right until I noticed an ice-blue handprint on the white playroom wall, suspiciously, right under the window (apparently, this is where stuff happens in my house).
This was the day I wised up, and explained clearly that drawing, painting, stickering, glittering, and glueing were all activities that were not appropriate for walls.
Lesson #5: Don’t Run Out In Front Of Cars x 1000000
Toddlers are truly terrifying. They go from being adorable little babes in arms who can be conveniently carried pretty much everywhere, to tiny maniacs hell bent on endangering their own lives.
Once my daughter had mastered toddling, she took to running. She was surprisingly fast and, as my old PE teacher will tell you, I am surprisingly slow. I have long legs but lack motivation. My daughter has tiny legs but seems to run on lithium. One minute we’d be playing in the park, the next she’d make a run for it out of the gate.
One minute we’d be standing outside a cafe, saying goodbye to friends, the next she’d be racing in the direction of the road. I spent about two months of my life running after her, shouting frantically at her to stop (she has excellent selective hearing skills). I lost some weight, she didn’t lose her life, and eventually she learned not to run into traffic.
Lesson #6: Punching Friends Isn’t The Way Forward
It’s tough to be one year old; you have few verbal skills, and basically rely on your brute strength to carry you through life. You are forced to interact with the same babies all the time, and you’re repeatedly told they’re your friends, even though all they do is steal your toys and hog the attention.
Like most one year olds, my daughter decided to use her ninja skills to help her through. A child would take the toy she was playing with, and my daughter would lamp him. Another baby would be playing with something my daughter wanted, and she’d crawl over and take it.
Though I modelled them endlessly, she seemed unable to get her head around good manners and graciousness. It took many months, perhaps years, for my daughter finally to understand that violence was not the answer.
Lesson #7: Cash Machines Don’t Just Give You Money
My daughter wants things. All the things. She wants the Buzz Lightyear thing she saw in the toy shop; she wants that Frozen baton from the supermarket; and she wants a flapjack, like, now.
I don’t buy her everything she wants, and whether that’s because I can’t afford it or because I don’t want to spend my hard-earned money on plastic rubbish, is hard to say. Sometimes I simply explain that we don’t have the money to buy something right now, and we have to save up.
The first time I said this to her, she looked at me like I was an idiot and said: “So, go to the cash machine.”
Oh, to live in a world where cash machines give out money to anyone who needs it! Wouldn’t that be lovely? That’s where my daughter lived, right until I popped her bubble, and taught her that money had to be earned. She looked pretty horrified.
Lesson #8: Bare Bottoms Are Not Appropriate Business Attire
Sometimes, my husband works from home. This is good, because it means we get to spend lunch time with him, but terrible because it means my daughter spends all day desperately trying to hang out with him.
More than once, my husband has been having a business meeting over Skype when my daughter has run into the room and started chatting to him.
Not very professional, I guess, but forgivable – or it would have been, if she were wearing knickers. Which she wasn’t, obviously. What sort of three year old wears clothes to business meetings?
After the second time this happened, I had to sit down with my daughter, and have a serious discussion about what is and is not appropriate business attire.
#9: It’s Not Polite To Shout “BIG MAN!” At Larger Than Average Gentlemen
When my daughter was learning to talk, she was definitely not learning the rules that hold society together.
She could just about manage ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ – sometimes – but anything other than that was just too much. She also shouted a lot, because small children are noisy.
When she learned the words ‘big’ and ‘man’, she started shouting them a lot, too. Usually at larger than average chaps who crossed our paths, but quite often at larger than average women as well.
She didn’t distinguish between sexes, she just shouted “Big man, big man” at all of them, often while pointing. This phase lasted a month. One of the longest months of my life.
#10: You Shouldn’t Eat Cupcake Paper
My daughter doesn’t get to eat a lot of sugar. I mean, she has quite a lot these days, but certainly less than average. We don’t have squash or biscuits at home; these are things reserved for birthday parties.
I think this is why she really loves sugar. Eating sugary food is just the best for her (and for me, but don’t tell her that, and definitely don’t tell her about the secret stash of biscuits I keep at the very top of a kitchen cupboard), so when she gets to do it, she goes all out.
And that includes eating the cupcake cases.
They are inedible; they are made of waxed paper and almost certainly shouldn’t be eaten. It took a surprisingly long time for this message to sink in with her. Only very recently has she started handing me complete cupcake cases after she has devoured the cake.