In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character has to re-live February 2 again and again until he gets it right.
Our foster care experience has some similarities to Groundhog Day. We’ve been doing foster care for two years, and in that time, we’ve had 3 baby girls — all of whom have come to us at exactly 14 months. We did not request 14-month-old girls; on our foster care form, we noted we’d be open to any child, age three and under.
Despite this, every time a new social worker comes to our door, she’s holding a toddler girl for us.
Having gone through every parenting stage from birth to 10, it is my opinion that the year between one and two is the hardest. One-year-olds, cute as they may be, are crazy. One-year-olds are a terrifying combination of total mobility and a tiny brain. I realize this was also an issue for the Tyrannosaurus Rex, and there are important similarities between the two, not the least of which is destructive potential. Parents of one-year-olds spend much of their time bent in half, running after their toddler, trying to prevent a calamity. Bill and I have now been doing this for two years straight.
Christa, * our current one-year-old, is obsessed with the toilet. We must keep the lids down and the bathroom doors shut at all times. If we forget, no matter where Christa is in the house, some sort of toilet alert goes off in her brain, and she is off and running toward the toilet. Upon reaching the toilet, she will take any object she happens to be carrying and fling it in.
Complicating the issue is Liam, our six-year-old, whose own relationship with the bathroom has always been volatile. Liam waits until the last nanosecond to use the bathroom and then sprints to it from wherever he is. This means he often can’t even spare the time to close the door. This apparently turns Christa’s internal bathroom alert to “high” and she is off and running to the open bathroom where there is now even more potential for fun. Liam, of course, is horrified to be seen standing at the potty by his little sister, but cannot flee the scene, so his only recourse is to yell loudly until a running, bent-in-half parent appears to whisk Christa away. And that is just one three-minute period of the day.
All of our children, as toddlers, would try to take our food. It is impossible to eat near a toddler without having the child make a grab for whatever you happen to be eating. This leaves the parent in a quandary. Do you give in, break off a bite of the food, and give it to the child, thus teaching the child to continue to grab for food whenever he or she wants, or do you say something like, “No, this is mine, you have your own cracker,” and risk the high pitched screams of frustration that will follow? The year between one and two is when most women lose the remainder of the weight gained during pregnancy. This is probably because they’re giving their food away, but it could also be from time they spend running around, bent in half.
Three foster one-year-olds in a row, in addition to our two boys’ time as toddlers, have convinced me they all have the same agenda. I can almost imagine a boardroom meeting of one-year-olds (three of them crawling on the table, two pulling on the curtains, one crumpling papers), led by a just turned-two-year-old. The two-year-old would have a flip chart with a list of assignments for the one-year-olds. Cabinets at floor level? Open them and start to empty as fast as you can. You’ve been brought outside? Run toward the street. If no street, open water will do. Closets? Walk in and see what you can find. Food on the floor? Eat immediately. In fact, assume any small object on the floor is a piece of food. Done with your oatmeal? Start rubbing it on your face. If no one notices, move on to your hair. Socks? Who needs socks? Take them off. Right away.
As I write this, Christa is busily taking apart a ballpoint pen on the floor next to me. She has no socks on and I know that I have approximately sixty seconds to finish writing this before she toddles over to the computer tower and starts randomly pressing buttons.
But she has these enormous brown eyes, unbelievably soft chubby cheeks and legs that are still a little bowed from her time in the womb. She babbles in a soft baby language and when she hugs me, it’s with her whole body.
She’s one, and she’s crazy and sometimes my life is Groundhog Day because I’m on my fifth one-year-old. But other times I think, how lucky I am that I keep catching these girls as they tumble over the threshold between infancy and childhood. Wriggling, pot-bellied little girls, bursting into my life and toddling into my heart. How lucky and blessed I am.
Except for that toothbrush in the toilet.