Monday, March 17, 2008

Toddlers, Talk to Me

I've been making the two-year-old birthday party circuit lately, and I've got to hand it to them - two-year-olds are the cutest game in town. A two-year-old on his own is pretty darn cute, but get a bunch of them together and the cuteness just oozes out everywhere and turns typically level-headed adults into smiling, sappy goofballs.

Two-year-olds have a knack for making everything funny. The way they walk, like they're trying to pretend like they're not drunk. The way they drop things and then stoop to pick them up, taking extra care on the vertical return so they don't do a face-plant in the sandbox. A two-year-old laughs with his entire body and infects everyone else with their happiness. And seeing a two-year-old run with complete abandon is enough to make Dick Cheney want to celebrate Earth Day.

The way two-year-olds interact with each other is even better. Linear thought is not a requirement, and they don't even have to be doing the same thing to have a good time together. Whether they are bonding over animal crackers, juice, or a mutual admiration for Thomas the Tank Engine, toddlers generally accept each other for who they are.

My favorite thing about two-year-olds, though, is how easy it is for me to communicate with them. I know, most of their words are not easily understood and they don't use complete sentences, but that is where the magic happens. Let me explain.

I am not a kid person. Kids don't get me, and I don't get them. Kids are unpredictable, and I never know what they're going to say to me. That freaks me out. When I'm around other people's kids, I feel like they can sense my fear and see it as a weakness. Take this recent exchange in the parking lot of my son's preschool:

Random Child: Are you Zach's mom?

Me: No.

Random Child: You look like Zach's mom.

Me: Okay.

It's not that I am not friendly or social, or that I lack the basics of conversant interaction. It's that I have nothing to say to kids that doesn't sound like I am patronizing them.

But with two-year-olds, my world opens up. This is a group I can engage with. Since I am not completely clear on what they are telling or asking me, I can pretty much say anything and get an A+ for trying. A conversation with a two-year-old goes more like this:

Toddler: Cup.

Me: Yep, that's a red cup.

Toddler: Moon in sky.

Me: Look at the moon in the sky. What shape is the moon?

Toddler: Mommy is eating.

Me: Yep, Mommy is having a yummy snack.

Easy! Just state the obvious and ask questions related to shapes, colors, and sounds, and you're golden. I could do this all day.

I feel like my resistance to interact with kids makes me lazy or standoffish, and that I might be interpreted as mean or disinterested. And maybe I am those things, who knows. But I think it really comes down to the basic need we all have once in a while to be happy just stating the obvious, accepting it, and moving on. Toddlers have it down to an art form, and I get it.