Ask The Audience – How to Entertain Toddlers
Having two toddlers is both exhilarating and mind-numbingly exhausting. How is it possible to feel so young and so old at the same time? I’ve never laughed and cried so much (everyday!) in my life. Entertaining them in a way that is actually fun for me/us, is so, so hard. Now many of you might be thinking ‘uh, parenting is not supposed to be fun for you’ and while you may be right, I for one need to make it more fun than it has been to ensure that they are getting a better version of me than I’ve been giving them. I love them so much, I’m so dedicated to giving them a good childhood, and helping them turn into good people, but lately every day I felt like I’m not that good at it.
Let’s review – we have Charlie (formerly known as ‘The Gentle Giant’ now known as ‘Occasional Sociopath/comedian’) who is 3 1/2 and Elliot, (formerly known as ‘the happiest baby on the planet’, now known as ‘Charlie’s mirror and, well, still the happiest toddler’). She does whatever he does which is both adorable and terrifying (again, because he is 3). They get along SO WELL, considering the fact that she destroys everything he builds and he bosses her around like a lecturing cartoon character.
We have a happy enough family, and things are fine, but there have been so many more nights lately where I’m not enjoying it, which brings me to tears with shame, knowing that they’ll only be this young once. Nothing makes you feel like a worse mom, when in those moments you fantasize them being older, when you wish the time away. Tears, again. I’m hoping some of you can relate.
Elliot’s favorite activities include unloading my purse, taking apart my wallet, “reorganizing” the tupperware drawer, eating crayons or reading and cuddling (obviously my favorite of them all). It’s enjoyable but relatively mellow and while in a way it is boring, it’s also pretty easy and fun until she finds her way into the litter box and cat food.
Charlie, on the other hand wants to play alien-robot-destruction-monster-GET-THE-BAD-GUY imagination games all night, every night. For a while the imagination games were ‘doctor checkup’ or ‘ice cream shop’ (worm ice cream, EWE), which were fun. But this whole boy imagination game is wildly more exhausting than I had predicted (especially after working for 9 hours and being starving) and frankly I am not that good at it. I get it wrong all the time and Charlie gets annoyed that I’m sitting on/smashing the space station (chair), and frankly I don’t like ‘getting the bad guy’. Sure, I played ‘war’ when I was a kid but it was with my other siblings, not imaginary rhinos (from Robin Hood).
Since we’ve had the yard finished (one week) it’s been WILDLY better, plus having it light longer certainly helps. But I also don’t want to just say ‘go and play’ every night (which rarely works anyway) because I want to engage with them and play with them and feel like a mom that is really fun and entertaining (like their dad – why are dads so much more fun???)
Don’t worry, I understand the need for teaching them independence and I’ve read all about how good it is for kids to be bored, but when we all engage in something we love to do together, it feels so incredibly good.
Meanwhile, enter the curveball – right now Brian is acting in a play (that you should see – it premieres May 6th in Pasadena) which means that he is gone Tuesday – Friday, 5-10pm and Saturdays and Sundays 10-6 – for rehearsal. For those of you moms gasping right now in shock and pity, know that of course we talked about it, and I insisted he do it (it’s a really interesting/challenging role that he was so excited about and theater acting truly is his passion – a word you know I never use but is the only way to describe).
I agreed, with terms (of course). Our deal was that I wouldn’t resent him or make him feel guilty if he REALLY made me feel acknowledged and appreciated. Like REALLY made me feel like a really good mom and wife. Additionally the play had to make him happy. Parenting two alone is so hard and making that sacrifice for 2 1/2 months was going to be, well, not sure there is a word to describe it, so I really needed this play to make him really happy. (It does, by the way)
For the most part we’ve stuck to this deal, with one setback that we worked through (he quickly forgot HOW much work it was and his small ‘ah, thanks for taking the kids’ weren’t enough for me). We are back on track, but I need some help.
Some nights are ok, some terrible and some good. Charlie is tantrum-ing less than he was 2 months ago (although you should have seen his meltdown this morning about how he couldn’t seem to stab his own pancake with a fork – I’m talking 20 minutes of crying and frustration before he was able to work through it). Elliot is pretty much a dream to put to bed (so much easier than Charlie who needs an hour and a half of unwinding). Individually they are such great kids with no alarming challenges. But collectively, my god, they are just so much work and I look forward to 8:15pm (when both are down) way more than I’d like to admit.
So here is my question – what can we do as activities that we can ALL enjoy without leaving our house? Here is what we are doing so far:
- Fort making
- Hide and seek
- Bug hunting/bird feeding
- Obstacle courses – jumping over, ducking under, avoiding lava, etc.
- We dance to the Moana soundtrack.
Birdie is a bit young for arts and crafts or helping to cook (even though she loves helping me organize and clean) and while we can certainly just play randomly in the backyard and I know that it’s really good for them, it’s more MY boredom that I’m trying to combat. When we find something that we all like (like those above 4 things) we all thrive and I feel like the mom that I always wanted to be.
This weekend I’m going to buy an old computer or stereo from a thrift store and together we’ll take it apart with tools. It sounds weird but I loved doing that as a kid. Elliot can’t participate in as much, but she gets excited to try – it’s the 3 year old activity thing that I’m needing help with. He’s physical. He’s super active at night (especially when we get home, he just wants to PLAY!!!).
Now I have a million activities planned for when they are 3 and 5 but this 18 months and 3 1/2 ages are really hard to have one activity that we all enjoy.
I’m obsessed with these kids. They are both pretty much the best people on the planet (despite this bout of ‘three year old’ that we are going through). But I need some more tools to be a better mom so that I’m having more fun, and they are getting a happy mom, not an exhausted and totally drained one. Is that possible??? I figured I’d crowd-source some parenting ideas from you.
So you toddler-experienced moms, what can you do casually with two toddlers that is also fun for parents?
I brought it up to my girlfriends (naturally) before posting and they already had good ideas that I hadn’t totally thought of …. so let er rip!