13 unofficial stages of baby and toddler
From scaling furniture like a mountain goat to getting naked in public, Lizzie Catt has the lowdown on the unoffocial stages of baby - and toddlerdom.
Smiling, weaning, crawling, walking… we all know the official stages that health visitors look out for, but they’re not the only phases babies and toddlers go through. There are the unofficial stages too – the ones that will have fellow parents exclaiming, ‘Ha, I remember when we had to hide all the pens and pencils’ or ‘It seems like only yesterday that we found Gregory on the roof of the shed’ and ‘Oh, I wish mine still did that!’
On baby’s first car trip, the chances are they appeared spectacularly underwhelmed by the wonders of motorised transport, maybe even lulled to sleep by the movement of the car. However, there is often a spell, a couple of months in and almost inevitably coinciding with their first long journey, where getting into a car will make babies sc-reeeeeam. Some of them will yell like they’re sitting on a hedgehog for the entire journey; others will unleash wails of rage every time you pull up at a red light, or T-junction, or if you slow down to let a cat cross the road.
It starts, perhaps, with the refusal of a bottle. Babies who’d happily down a dream feed with daddy in the early months, after mummy and her sore boobs had crawled into bed at 8pm, will decide that the very notion of a bottle is highly offensive to them (usually when you’re finally ready for a much-needed night out and have spent a week pumping enough milk to supply a small Starbucks). Weaners are also very fond of the last-minute ‘Nope!’ headswivel, expressing their contempt for your lovingly steamed squash medley or pouch of expensive organic purée by ensuring it’s smeared right across their face. They’re simply exercising their free will, of course (although perhaps ‘no’ shouldn’t be included as a ‘phase’ as that mistakenly implies that it will, at some point, end).
The first time your baby ‘gets’ peepo, your heart will very nearly explode with joy. More than just a game, this – along with raspberries on the tummy – is one of the first ‘conversations’ you can have with your adorable but hitherto inscrutable baby; the earliest shared joke. Then, when they grab a muslin and figure out how to do it back – well, if you thought you weren’t capable of simultaneously playing peepo, sobbing, laughing, shooting a video and filling in an application for Mensa, you’re about to prove yourself wrong. Which is why it’s Ok that this game is going to run and run… and run. A lifesaver at bus stops and in doctor’s waiting rooms, a get-out-of-jailfree card when all other entertainment options fail, Peepo will precede Lego, Minecraft and Pokémon GO as your child’s first obsession.
Some parents think the first few weeks of a baby’s life are the toughest to get through, while others cite teething or sleep regression. For some, it’s what could best be summed up as the unpacking phase. Lasting from crawling – mobility is key – to just before their second birthdays, the unpacking phase marks the period when all little ones want to do is pull the contents of every bag, drawer, cupboard and bin out onto the floor, relocate items to a different room, and then probably chew them. Toilet rolls and packets of wipes, if foolishly left unguarded, will be unravelled and emptied. It’s dangerous, exhausting, annoying and, when you’ve just organised everything in your T-shirt drawer in accordance with the precise Marie Kondo folding technique, a bit heartbreaking.
You thought you’d left the maternity ward with a human child, but after several months it seems you’ve actually wound up with a mountain goat. The baby who, just a few short months ago, could be left babbling happily on the carpet while you answered the door, is now capable of scaling stairs, shelves and changing tables in nanoseconds. Vertical surfaces are seen as a challenge and if there isn’t a way up, well, they will find a way. Leave a climbing aid – a box of nappies or bin, for example – in the wrong place and they’ll be planting a flag up on the kitchen counter before you can blink.
The more predictable phase of toddler mischief – the wanton vandalism period – will see several, if not all, of the following activities: drawing on the walls, mobile phone down the toilet, credit cards in the bin, sink blocked by toilet roll and flooded, houseplants denuded of leaves, make-up (mind you, probably only your favourite items) stolen and liberally applied, Playdoh rubbed into hair, siblings decorated, reading material ripped to shreds, flowers beheaded and pots of glitter ground into the carpet. Perhaps they’re exploring the world around them, or maybe they’re auditioning for Despicable Me 4.
Ah, those early friendships, formed at the local playgroup or with NCT colleagues: tiny people thrown together to experience the wonders of social interaction… or, in reality, fight to the bitter end over a toy buggy with the grim determination that’s usually only demonstrated by two shoppers facing off over a heavily discounted 56in telly during a Black Friday bunfight at Currys. At first, the shrill cries of ‘Mine!’ and the hot, furious tears that will surely follow can put a bit of an embarrassing downer on those coffee mornings with fellow mums, but you soon get used to it – and it doesn’t seem to stop the kids declaring, ‘Amelie is my BEST FRIEND!’ a mere two hours after going head-to-head in a terrifyingly fierce custody battle over a plastic mobile phone.
The cutest of all the phases, the mispronunciations that come out of little mouths between the day they start talking and the day they suddenly turn around and say, ‘Actually, mother, I’d prefer toast to porridge this morning’ are what make pregnancy and birth totally worth it. When they’ve finished blanancing on one weg and riding their bicual, eating a bicbit while watching a cartoon about pingwings, then go to bed with a duddle and tiss, calling, ‘I wuff oo moon a back’… yep, that’s the good stuff right there.
Around the time your toddler’s vocabulary is rapidly expanding, so are their nappies. There isn’t a nappy in the world that can contain a full toddler bladder’s worth of widdle so yep, staggering out of bed in the middle of the night to change soggy sheets is something that starts before potty training is even on your radar. But it’s good, because having finally got through the night feeds, teething and separation anxiety, you were really missing seeing 3am on a nightly basis, weren’t you? Sob.
Many people say they’re put off the idea of parenthood by the poo factor but, after a few cack-handed attempts at nappy changing, most discover it isn’t quite the horror show they’d at first feared. Until, that is, they experience their first poo explosion. Poosplosions are a regular occurrence from the early days right up until babies are weaned. How can a tiny, puny human, who barely has the strength or co-ordination to wave an arm, fire out a torrent of warm liquid with such power that it pools down in the teensy feet of their babygrow, spurts up into their hairline and blasts through three layers of fabric? Babies, we salute you.
If anything will bring any notions of junior’s intellectual brilliance crashing down, it is the determination with which toddlers will refuse to put on shoes, hats and coats – and indeed any form of outerwear. And if this isn’t frustrating enough, you wrestle a writhing mini person into their garments, turn around to put your own on and then discover THEY’VE TAKEN EVERYTHING OFF AGAIN. Perhaps this phase is meant to prepare parents for the frustrations of the teenage years. Or maybe toddlers have simply failed to communicate to us just how much they love the feel of asphalt under their bare tootsies and the sensation of cold rain on their heads. Who can say?
Is there any greater fan of naturism in the world than a senior toddler? As children prepare to stride out of their toddler years, many put those honed fine motor skills to work by unfastening all of their clothes and running around as naked as the day they were born. Nude episodes are often preceded by protestations of, ‘I’m hot!’ or ‘These trousers are itchy’ and ‘There are prickles in my T-shirt’, followed by a brief disappearance and one of those troubling quiet spells. ‘I took my clothes off!” they announce unnecessarily as they charge back in stark naked, startling the supermarket delivery person/your book group/the neighbour who’s popped in with the post/all the guests at their third birthday party. Still, it’s a good way of distracting everyone from the lick marks on the birthday cake…
This phase arrives not so much at a particular age, but during your baby’s first full winter and is, you will unfortunately discover, an annual occurrence from that moment on. Travelling to work on a bus full of sneezing people has got nothing on sharing a house with a little person, or as they are known in winter, germbags. Prepare for months of seeing your beautiful child’s face festooned with streaks of livid green snot, of whispered 3am Calpol summits (‘Do you think he needs some? For a cold? Is that Ok?’) and getting not one, or two, or even three colds yourself, but a constant, back-to-back stream, the lurgy equivalent of chain smoking. On the plus side, they’re building up their immune system and you – hey, you’re just keeping Lemsip in business.