The Humiliating Life of Toddlers

Two runners
Escaping into the present

It was midmorning at the preschool and my shift for the day was watching the goldfish pond and the “manipulatables,” which means the various magnetic shapes and blocks that little kids can build stuff with while improving their fine-motor and, hopefully, future geometry skills.

Two boys were tormenting another kid by using their magnets to swipe shapes from his half-finished skyscraper, and as he grew increasingly frustrated, teachers kept advising him to calm down and play somewhere else.

Feeling bad for Tormented Kid’s situation, I briefly considered how to subvert the preschool’s non-intervention policy. This place is all about letting kids work things out amongst themselves, so we aren’t supposed to settle disputes unless someone is getting hurt.

It’s a good system, but my inner nerd raged along with the scrawny budding architect, who kept enduring lectures while having his sand castle knocked down by a couple of sniggering jocks.

But before I could dream up a rescue mission, Angry Kid starts chucking magnetic puzzle pieces into the goldfish pond. Freakin’ Angry Kid, jacking everything up again…

Supervising a pack of toddlers means putting out the biggest fires first, so Tormented Kid was forced to deal with his Skyscraper Invasion himself as I turned my attention to Angry Kid. Fixing my best angry eyebrows, I looked Angry Kid square in the eye and said, “CUT IT OUT.”

He turned white and took off. Hmm, I think I was supposed to say something along the lines of, “I cannot allow you to be destructive to property,” but “CUT IT OUT” felt so much more effective.

Honestly, I’m surprised we don’t deal with more puzzle pieces being chucked into the goldfish pond. Seems to me if you let a bunch of preschool boys loose on a pile of puzzle pieces next to a giant goldfish pond, it’s just a matter of time before goldfish are suffering air assaults.

But before I could contemplate the equation further, another little boy walked up to me, grabbed my hand, and took off running…

I was reluctant to leave my post for a second, but curious to see where the kid was going with this and didn’t want to blunt his enthusiasm, so I followed him. Where were we going?

I’d suspected this little boy has a puppy dog crush, since he keeps trying to impress me. I couple of weeks ago, he told me all about his parkour lessons, saying “You should really come see me do my parkour. You’d be impressed.” Later, he made pretend tacos to share with me.

Then last week, he leaned next to me while putting his hand above his head. Stepping back to see that he measured approximately to my hip, he said, “Hmm. Well, I’m much shorter than you now, but I will be taller than you someday, so I can protect you if you come live with me.”

Adorable, these toddler flirtation attempts. He tries to impress me with his physical prowess as well as his ability to protect and provide. Not so different from adult techniques, really.

But I’m thinking this latest attempt is the cutest of all as I fly around the building holding hands with the little boy. He takes me up the stairs and into the hamster-like preschool lofts. He runs me back down and outside, through the pirate ship and back upstairs through a cage bridge, pointing to the view along the way.

We run across the bridge and into another tucked-away toddler room full of dials and levers. He puts my hand on the dials and smiles broadly as I manipulate them. “Fun?” he smiled.

Yes, it’s incredibly fun. I’m pondering how this  wouldn’t be a bad move for a grown man. If a guy grabbed your hand and silently led you on a whirlwind fun run of adventure…

Actually, scratch that. If a strange man grabbed my hand on the street and started running, I’d scream my head off in abject terror. This wouldn’t fly in adult society unless you already knew the man well.

But when a four-year-old does it, it’s insanely charming, and for a few minutes, I was four-years-old again myself, breaking free of all responsibilities to just fly in a giddy run from perch to treetop. I started giggling and he smiled back.

Just then, his eyes grew wide. He dropped my hand and took off.

Hmm, kids are fickle, I thought, before shrugging and returning to my post by the goldfish pond. I spent some time negotiating tiny construction projects and pretending not to be freaked out when kids asked to handle the hissing cockroaches contained in our little terrarium.

Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches
A face only toddlers and entomologists could love

The kids were unfazed by the bugs, letting them crawl all over their hands and thinking nothing of their threatening hiss. I, on the other hand, shivered at their crawly, pneumatic sputter and was relieved when they were finally returned to their cage.

Shaking off a Mini-Attack of the Willies, I walked into the bathroom to scrub the bug residue off my hands. There sat the little boy who led me on my morning whirlwind flight, with red-rimmed eyes and a towel around his waist. A clothes dryer was thumping.

“I DID NOT PEE MY PANTS!” he yelled, before looking at the floor.

“Of course not. It’s rainy outside and the rain got you wet,” I told him, trying to help salvage the poor kid’s dignity.

He gave me a weak, grateful smile.

Poor little guy. I hope he thinks I believed him.











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