As I sit here writing, my son, Leo, is eating his breakfast. This morning he has a mini peanut butter sandwich, unsweetened applesauce, and a small amount of no sugar added orange juice. He has eaten his fill, and is now proceeding to tear off a piece of crust. He is making "choo choo, clickety clack" noises like the toasted bread is a train. He has taken his spoon and painted his cup, tray, bib, and part of his chair in applesauce. At various points he has forgone the spoon entirely and dipped his hands in his bowl of applesauce, and shoveled it into his mouth. It's more efficient that way. He pushes the now inside out sandwich over top of his cup's top, smearing peanut butter all over the lid. This is a fairly common occurrence at mealtime in the Martin household, and I'm sure it is fairly common in other family houses as well. By the end of most days, I will have cleaned his tray a total of twelve times for one reason or another. Some messes and food will be less concerning. When I'm really stressed about the mess, he'll have some finger foods like gold fish crackers, dried fruit, or veggie straws. Those items are usually reserved for busy telework hours when we are both home for Covid-19 quarantine reasons or for the occasional trip out, but sometimes you're just tired of cleaning the same messy tray over and over again. Sometimes the quick wipe down after those pre-packaged snacks just makes life a little easier. When I clean his trays and the big messes foods like applesauce, soup, or smoothies can create, I try to remind myself that he ate healthy food. Not only did he eat it, but he ENJOYED eating something that is beneficial for his growing body. That is a big deal, and a success. He has recently been excited by helping make smoothies. He loves getting the berries out from the fridge or freezer, dumping them into the blender, pushing the button, and watching it blend. It isn't a mess free experience, but it is a pleasant one to be a part of. This Spring, I'll get to watch him help with new child safe parts of seasonal recipes and taste even more seasonal ingredients. Messes are unavoidable and inevitable, but finding the positives about the messes with a toddler does seem to help.
Leo has redefined organization for us in many ways. He is tall enough to reach our kitchen island, the countertops, and the table. You have to be careful what liquids, containers, and cups are on them. Everything has its place. Hot coffee goes to the center of the table or counter, closest to the wall. If cups of water or other beverages are available, he will drink them. If you leave any water in one, it better be a small amount. Otherwise, that's just another large pour to clean up, and more towels to clean later. I'll admit, this encourages us to drink water instead of other beverages. The occasional milk, juice, tea, and rare soda spills seem to leave a sticky residue somewhere no matter how many times we spot clean the area with soap and water. Thankfully, when we do get help watching him on the weekend, we usually take that time to do a thorough mopping.
The produce bowl we once used frequently on our far counter top, tends to cause some problems. We have to watch Leo closely or he will grab an apple and spit pieces of peel everywhere on the floor. It is amazing how far some of those pieces can go before you catch him, and even afterward. On occasion, a tomato has found its way into that bowl. You can imagine the mess that made! We now have a specific place out of reach for the produce bowl.
He enjoys looting lunch bags and cabinets. We're on our fifth type of cabinet and door locks. He figured out the last four in less than 30 seconds. I will say this, I don't have to worry about him going hungry. He is an excellent forager, and can get into the slightest cabinet crack or unfastened snap closure. Regarding his foraging, he is also a snack stasher. He will use his clothing as pockets, regardless of whether or not they came equipped with them or not. He has been caught stashing dried fruit, alphabet crackers, gummies, and even mealtime foods in his clothes, the sofa, chairs, and even under other furniture pieces. I promise you we feed him frequently, but it seems to be a fun game for him. He grins and laughs when we show him the item or catch him in the act. If he is caught in the act, the food item is shoved in his mouth and shown to us proudly between his teeth. This behavior is challenging, but we try to manage it as best as we can. For now, he is winning but I have a feeling the behavior won't last forever.
Recently, Leo has actually started to partake in cleaning up his own messes. He requires reminders and a great deal of patience, but I have been trying to teach him to clean up the messes he can. He once intentionally spilled an entire container of snacks on the floor, smiled, laughed, and started to walk away. I say started because I refused to let him finish walking away, and thus began his education on cleaning up messes. I held his hand, pointed to his spilled snacks, and said "You made a mess, pick them up." He began picking up pieces of goldfish crackers. He had placed his fifth goldfish into the container I held in my hand when he looked up at me and whined. It was a big-eyed look that said, "Do I really have to do this?" The mother in me responded, "You still have all of these to pick up. You aren't allowed to go play until you pick all of these snacks up." He whimpered again, but I stood firm. He picked the pieces up, not happily, but he has not intentionally dumped his snacks on the floor since. Every once and a while when he spills something on the floor now, he will stop to pick it up himself. When we see him do this, he usually gets rewarded with cheers and claps. He'll stop, clap for himself, and continue cleaning up. This small step forward reminds me to be patient with him, and that the messes he makes he will soon learn to clean up. My spring goal in that department is to keep teaching him. It may not clean the floors quicker, but it will provide a more long-term solution that will be better for both of us.
While I am making progress with my growing toddler in some areas, our living room still looks like a daycare center. My husband and I waited to start having children, at least according to our families and the area we live. Leo is the first grandchild for both my husband's and I's immediate family. All of our aunts, uncles, and cousins have had children and grandchildren before our parents and us already. Why is this relevant? It means we have had the good fortune and misfortune of a colossal number of hand-me-downs, and gifts for holidays and baby showers. People have meant well, and have been incredibly generous. In turn, it has given us the opportunity to be generous to other people in need. However, it has bordered on ridiculous, and has at times been stressful. There is no need for the number of items we received in one home. If we had kept all of it, we would be on an episode of Hoarders.
One well-meaning aunt had given us 3 extra-large garbage bags full of stuffed animals and several totes worth of toys as hand me downs from her only grandson. My family went overboard with Leo's Christmas and Birthday gifts, and even bought him items he can't even play with until he is 8 or older. We aren't keeping those items until he is eight. There is a level of reasonable you have to be as a parent and as an individual. You just can't store a ton of stuff for a long period of time. We learned that we don't have to be rude or make a big deal out of it. Smile, say thank you, and do what you can. Just because someone has bought your child something does not mean you are solely forced to hold onto it. For family members we visit fairly regularly, we ask them to keep some items at their home so Leo can enjoy those toys there. We haven't had too many issues with that. If Leo seemed completely disinterested in an item that our families did not want to keep in their homes, we either returned or gifted. Many items we received did not have gift receipts, but we had no problem reaching out to donation centers, specifically daycares and foster organizations to see if they knew of children who might be less fortunate. We had gone through this same rodeo to an even larger degree with clothing items, and we weren't going to make the same mistake in this department.
Another way we are beginning to offset the toy situation in our living room is to create a new storage system that works for all of us. Leo has a standard toybox, but we've also found that keeping items in a clear tote in smaller clear organization boxes seems to work for him. We group certain types of toys together, and rotate them in and out of his room, the basement, and the living room. This seems to keep him interested, and for the most part he plays with all the toys he has now more than he did previously. Everyone can see what is in the tote, but it also contains the mess a bit better and we can all find things easier. He also doesn't feel the need to take all of his toys out of his toy box as frequently now that he can see it. We plan to continue sorting, boxing, and clear container solutions in various parts of our home for part of our Spring-cleaning resolution.
I mentioned earlier about the chaos and nightmare that was clothing hand me downs. I want to expand upon that for a minute, so you know the challenge we had, and how we have begun rectifying it. The same aunt that gave us the stuffed animals, multiple bags of toys, various bedding items, and items we didn't even know the purpose of other than knowing they were baby or child related items also gave us the equivalent in baby clothes. The 3 extra-large garbage bags worth of clothing in each size assortment included; newborn, 3-6 month, 6 months, 6-9 months, 9-12 months, 12 months, 12-18months, 18months, 18-24months, 2 T. Yes, that is a total of thirty extra-large bags of only clothing just from one aunt. My aunt and uncle told us we would use it all when they dropped it off at our door. This happened when I was seven months pregnant. I looked around at our once neat, and organized basement in horror, and thought "There is no way we can use all of this" followed by, "What did I sign up for if they are right?" I can most assuredly tell you; they were wrong. We didn't use a quarter of the amount of stuff we received, and we were just fine. My husband and I have spent many nights sorting through all sorts of items, sick to our stomachs at the amount of money it must have cost and at the amount of items we still didn't have the time or patience to go through. It felt like a never-ending battle of sorting, cleaning, packing, unpacking, repacking, organizing, and then sourcing donation sites. We could have immediately taken them all to Goodwill, the Salvation Army, local churches, daycares, foster center organizations, neighbors and friends of friends who were pregnant, etc. like we would end up doing with many of the items later anyway, but we felt we should at least give it a fair chance since we had no idea what we were in for as new parents. While I'm glad we at least looked over the items and found many we could use and like, I am much happier that we were able to get rid of the clutter.
My baby boy grew swiftly, and continues to do so. We nicknamed him "Tiny Titan" He didn't have those typically cute baby rolls and squeezable cheeks. He was just a "Goliath of a baby" as one of my coworkers deemed him. His legs and core are stout, and his reach is incredible. While his cousin's clothing may have fit him as a baby (they did not wear the same sizes at the same ages, Leo was always one or more sizes ahead), now that he is older the slim fit clothing that used to be his cousins couldn't fit him if we tried. While I have had to sort through even the clothing we decided to keep over and over due to Leo's rapid growth (seemingly once a month), I have taken solace in his growth. He is now larger than his cousin, so we can't accept any more hand me downs from that aunt. Now that we are experienced parents, we know how many clothing items to buy. We can keep it to a confident minimum and put all this organizational anxiety behind us and start fresh.
I'm looking forward to Spring shopping for Leo's clothes where I pick out the clothing items, toys, and child related items for him. I feel like I can truly be an involved parent in a new realm, and that is exciting for me. Through this experience, my husband and I can say that we have grown more knowledgeable on how to handle our "little" one and his needs. We can also say that we learned what compromises to no longer make. Although it is difficult and sometimes seemingly hurtful to others to not accept their gifts or to re-gift an item to someone else, you do have to make your and your family's mental health a priority. The clutter and chaos all of those clothing and toy items created more stress than it solved, and we are committed to not getting into that situation again. You have control over what you bring into your house. You do not have control over whether or not a family member chooses to buy your child something. There are always solutions, and don't be ashamed of the solutions you choose to take.
In addition to cleaning, organizing, accepting a reasonable level of chaos with parenthood, and patiently teaching my child some of those practices, what I really want to focus on this Spring is my relationship with my toddler, and our family. I want to enjoy the weather, go outside, blow bubbles, and make lots of Spring memories. We want to take a train ride for his birthday. We want to play with the dogs he squeals at, and has recently learned to help feed and water. We want to visit Uncle Tucker's farm. We want to go on nature walks, wagon rides, play on the playground together, and sit on the porch and have sweet tea and lemonade. We have a lot of big Spring goals that don't actually involve organizing or cleaning all that much. Spending time outside really doesn't require too much of that, so we're all looking forward to that! Having a toddler and being a parent is a wonderful, messy, fulfilling, crazy, and well worth the investment experience.