There are basically three definitions of the word “help” in the Toddlerese Dictionary. You know them.
1. used as an appeal for urgent assistance.
“Help!” (as their head is firmly stuck in between deck rails). “Help!” (as they are stuck planking between the couch and ottoman and are scared to fall in between). You know this one as a toddler actually needing help, but for something usually pretty ridiculous and picture worthy.
2. request to offer your services or resources to make the toddler’s life easier – not as urgent.
“Mom. Please help.” (as she points to the kleenex box on shelf she can’t reach, wanting to take out every kleenex one at a time). “Please help. Water.” (as he points to his water bottle on the floor of the car that you JUST picked up for him no less than 12 times already).
3. an offering of assistance from your toddler to you – because through your own invitation or simple appeal of the activity, the toddler thinks their assistance will indeed be helpful.
THIS LAST ONE. Numero tres. The act of the toddler “helping” you. This is the one.
No one talks about this act of toddler assistance, when some days I feel like it will surely be the thing that kills me one painstaking minute at a time. More so than the whining. More so than the tantrums when leaving the playground. And more so than alligator wrestling during each and every diaper change. (I said some days).
If you’ve been around toddlers, you know all too well the “help” I’m talking about. It can look like this:
Intention: help vacuuming.
Reality: toddler tries to hold and push your vacuum all on their own with NO help from you, resulting in a several minute struggle because its too heavy, and ending in tears because they couldn’t do it. Hence, nothing got vacuumed, because your toddler now needs help coming down from their vacuum induced rage. And if you’re thinking, “just remind her of her own play vacuum and you can do it together”, you are more than welcome to come over and tell her that. I’ll be in the corner giggling.
Intention: help baking and cooking.
Reality: after bringing over a chair for toddler to stand on or bringing ingredients down to their level, you think you’ve got a firm grip on their hand that holds the mixing spoon. Toddler refuses help, because after all, they’re the pro here? You calmly refuse to give them full reign, which incites immediate frustration from toddler. Before you can say “here it comes”, that firm grip is not so firm, and there is food – everywhere. You swear under your breath as you clean up the unknown proportions of misplaced ingredients that that was the last time you let them help for awhile. Until tomorrow. Blue berry muffins still turn out when half of the mix in your dogs mouth, right?
Intention: help you go to the bathroom.
Reality: Who knew that after being self-sufficient in the bathroom for 98% of your life you now needed help? You can’t say no – you want them interested in potty training and the process of going on the potty. So, they help get you toilet paper to wipe with. Which is fine, until you’re done wiping – but they aren’t done getting it for you. Half a roll is on the ground, you’re stuck on the pot, and in frustration they quickly reach to flush before you tell them you’re ready. All you’re left with is a few cold droplets of water on your butt and the shame in knowing your toddler just beat you in the bathroom.
Intention: help feeding the dogs.
Reality: This one is too easy to envision. Toddler wants to dump food into bowls. Gets distracted along the way (shocking). Food ends up all over floor. Some gets eaten by dogs. Some gets eaten by toddler. You don’t know how much food your dog actually got. You find bits of dog food in kitchen over the next week.
Intention: helping unload the dishwasher.
Reality: They are playing nicely in the playroom, so you quietly open the dishwasher thinking you can quickly unload it sans “help”. Your tot is the modern day version of Pavolv’s dog, however, and the simple sound of the dishwasher clicking open sends them running into the kitchen salivating with a thirst to help. You frantically get all the knives and deadly weapons up on the counter out of reach, and then proceed to let them help you. Three dirty spoons, a broken plate, and 38 minutes later, the dishwasher is unloaded. How could you have possibly done it without them?
Intention: help bringing in the groceries.
Reality: Most bags are too heavy to hand over. You learned that when they tipped over sideways while trying to walk the bag through the garage and smashed into the wagon. So now its a team effort between you and hubby. One sifts through bags looking for durable, non-breakable, non essential, light weight items to hand out. The other waits at the door to retrieve the items one at a time to avoid the toddler trying to walk up (and consequently falling back down) the stairs into the house. If it was a large grocery shop, you know to run in the perishable fridge/freezer items first because they could easily go bad by the time your helper is done helping.
To the parents of tiny helpers, I salute you. Keep on keepin’ on. Every day tasks take infinitely longer, the house can quickly turn dramatically filthier, and our patience meter can take significant hits when we are “assisted”, but we are determined to raise confident, independent, generous, and strong-willed young people. So we keep at it. After all, are we really that important to take the extra time to teach them? We allow them to help us throughout our day because we know in the long run, the rewards will far outweigh the patience we put in. And one day… one day… their help will in fact be our adult definition of help. Right? (No seriously, some reassure me I’m right).