The Gleeful Daredevil and Unbearable Mom Guilt: Raising a Super Active and Intense Toddler

If you’ve got a super intense/active child, this post might make you laugh, or cry, or shake your head in agreement. If not, you might do that thing where you roll your eyes and think things like, “well, just don’t let him!” or “my kid would never!” or “maybe your kid has XYZ.” I urge you, Karen, to stop. I’m not interested in pathologizing my 2yo’s behavior.

My two year old is intense. He’s almost always smiling and happy and he shows happiness with cackling laughter, leaps, hops, cheerleader level clapping, and squeals of glee between shouts of “this is amazing!” He is rarely sad, but small things impact him deeply and he shows sadness with hysterical sobs (today because I told him it was nap time but he wanted to watch the teenage boys in my backyard remove our grass). He buried his face in my neck and sobbed and sobbed only calming down once I told him that they’d probably still be there when he woke up. He shows anger and frustration with absolute rage. He’s willful and makes typical toddler defiance look like child’s play and he’s gut-wrenchingly fearless and curious and really into climbing. I’m 100% convinced I’ll have a heart attack before my fiftieth birthday. I’ve spent the entire past year sprinting after him and catching him mid-air or pulling him off of things: Tables, chairs, coffee tables, his play kitchen just in time, and mind you, I have a tiny house and am always right next to him. I am a helicopter mom on steroids because I have but one child and am anxious but also my one child seems hellbent on somehow making his way to the ceiling most days. It’s terrifying. When he first became a daredevil one of my neighbors/good friends teased me and said, “Oh geez, he’ll fall down a few times and get hurt and he’s fine. Don’t worry so much girl.” This same woman will now shriek with fear when he tries to catapult himself down her stairs and she watches him like a hawk and has more than a dozen times saved him from getting hurt. We laugh about this now and I’ll say “remember when you said to not worry” and she’ll laugh and roll her eyes and go “well that was before I knew what I know now.”

But he’s determined, and quick, and even if you’re standing next to him, he’ll do something unexpected like try to do a front flip on concrete. Once he was standing two feet from me and out of nowhere decided to do a mid-air spin twist and I dove for him and missed and he landed on the coffee table splitting his lip. He makes split-second decisions that most adults have a hard time anticipating and even tho my husband and I (and a few neighbors) have it dialed down to almost a science, once in a while he’ll still surprise me.

It finally got to a point with the climbing where we just couldn’t keep him off of things and our house was baby proofed as much as possible (to do it any more we’d be left with empty rooms and wall padding) and we didn’t know what to do. Then a neighbor of ours told us that their daughter was a climber and active af and instead of fighting the climbing urge they just found safe things to climb on. So we bought a pickler triangle and a rock climbing slide and for months that really did the trick. But as he’s gotten older and stronger, it’s become more complicated because now he will climb the triangle and try to backflip off of it. Another issue, his pure size and strength. At just two he’s easily as physically capable as a much older child (people usually think he’s 3-4). He’s strong, determined, and runs like a preschooler (I’ve been told my multiple moms). But he’s mentally still two so he’s like, “what is cause and effect?” And I spend a lot of my time gauging risk. Low risk? Let him try and climb it while I spot him. High risk, redirect him and discipline as needed. But sometimes I’m not fast enough, or I gauge the risk wrong, and he gets hurt, and I spend the rest of the week feeling like absolute shit and wondering why on earth I thought I was capable of raising a human.

Toddlers get hurt. Even the really careful and reserved ones. And yet every bonk, every trip, scratch, everything breaks my heart completely. I often replay the injury in my mind, how could I have prevented that? Should he start wearing a helmet in the house? What fitness routine can I adopt that will give me spidey-sense. I’m a sensitive person who loves my son intensely. I cry a lot. When he gets his vaccines I choke back tears (but put on a game face so he’s not scared or feels like he needs to worry about me because not trying to repeat codependency cycles over here). When his feelings get hurt I spend hours trying to find a solution. I lay in bed a lot trying not to hate myself.

But then I stop myself and remember that I can’t raise him in a bubble. To prevent him from ever getting hurt I’d have to strap him to my back. He’s curious and active and strong and moving his body nonstop is just how he experiences the world. Plus how can he learn how to explore safely if he doesn’t get the opportunity to explore?

I can’t re-womb him, or strap him to my body, I know. Although I wish I could sometimes. Plus, this pandemic isn’t helping. He’s the kind of kid that needs to be in a lot of different activities and socialize all the time. He’s the kind of child who would thrive in preschool and nonstop activities (even though going into parenthood I was like, “I don’t want to be one of those moms who always puts their kids in a million activities…but hey, I didn’t know I was getting an activity level 5 million toddler). It seems like a lot of two year olds are just happy to exist, like yay, I was born, look! A toy! Like they don’t feel the need to climb onto “the roof to fix the shingles” as he said when I caught him trying to drag a ladder across the grass last week while we were gardening together. As an anxious person, I wasn’t prepared to raise a tiny Evel Knievel. I just have to keep searching for ways to let him safely explore, to find ways for him to move his body, and push his physical limits in a safe environment (maybe pad the entire yard and wrap him in bubble wrap?). And, I have to try to be gentle with myself, too. Although this part is harder for me. I’m with him 24/7, watching him every second, and doing my absolute best and at some point I have to be okay with that. Someday. (Also, spare me the “omg you can relax you don’t have to watch him every second” comments, I can assure you that I do, we’re talking about a kid who actually removed the door hinges one day in less than a minute while I was peeing (Precocious? Check.). Also, I have a trauma background and the fear of loss of a loved one is real. Once you’ve lost someone who was far too young, in my case a brother, our fragility and mortality are too real. It’s no longer a fringe concept on the edge of our minds, instead, it has its own prime time show center stage called, “Anything Can Happen, YOLO.”

Anyhoo, any of you out there trying your best to raise a gleeful daredevil? What works for you? Tips?

2 thoughts on “The Gleeful Daredevil and Unbearable Mom Guilt: Raising a Super Active and Intense Toddler

  1. No tips or advice regarding this bit of parenting, as I’m fortunate to have spawned a relatively calm one (who also gets 8 hours of preschool here in Italy, bless her solo teacher with 20 kids in the class). Just sending some love your way, Mamma. The Fear is real. Even with a calm one, I get that. So when I find myself spiraling with the weight of it, I remind myself of the ever-impressive zen-like insight of Pixar when Marlin says, “I don’t want anything to happen to him!” and Dory responds, “…But then nothing would ever happen to him.”

    (Also we’ll see if this comment goes through. Looks like on your last post it did not.)

    1. I love that line so much and it does really put things into perspective. Also what is up with this thing and comments! It always eats them and I have no idea wtf is going on.

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