Three years ago, I experienced my first summer as a mom. While I enjoyed toting my son to beaches and picnics in his baby sunglasses and adorable Gap rash guard, he was just an infant—still too young to appreciate the longer days, breezy evenings, and sun-filled afternoons of summer.
The following summer he was older—a full-fledged toddler—and he could finally appreciate the magic of it all. My husband and I had a ball taking him to playgrounds, berry-picking, and splashing in the tiny pool in our own backyard. We also had much fun dining alfresco on our backyard patio and at our favorite local waterfront haunts.
That year I learned many things about what it meant to have a toddler in the summertime. Your first summer with a toddler will be unlike any other summer you’ll have with them. Here are the six thoughts you’ll have.
1. “Did the neighbors hear that?”
Toddlers are a noisy people. They are in the in-between, a confounding mix of baby and kid. Thus, their noises too are a curious blend of talking, crying, and yelling—especially yelling. With the weather nice and the windows open, you’ll stop and wonder: did the neighbors hear that?
Did the neighbors hear it when you wanted to brush your toddler’s teeth and she reacted like you were brandishing a hot branding iron? Or when you gave her juice when she really wanted milk and she screamed like Godzilla himself just burst through the kitchen wall?
Part of you will think “of course they understand what’s happening—they have kids,” but the other part of you will still recoil and worry you’re one wrong color sippy cup away from a call to CPS.
2. “I think I might burst from the cuteness.”
Toddler summer clothes are next level cute. Sure, it’s fun to dress babies in tiny sundresses and dapper plaid button up onesies, but seeing a walking, talking toddler in a similar get-up is utterly adorable.
Your summer baby likely didn’t need footwear, but your summer toddler will. You’ll walk into Carter’s or Target and will be delighted to see they still make light-up sandals. You’ll throw them in your shopping bag then head home and watch your little one’s eyes light up when they notice the flashing lights as they run.
You’ll love it all. The tiny bathing suits they’ll wear as they gallop through sprinklers. The fedoras and sunglasses they’ll don while eating ice cream. It will be enough to make your heart want to burst from the cuteness.
3. “Do they make toddler-sized bubble wrap?”
Toddlers are always on the move, but they don’t yet have the greatest coordination or sense of direction. They’re tiny adventurers with zero fear. There will be falls into thorny bushes and spills on the pavement. You’ll spend much of the summer wincing, cringing, and white-knuckling whoever’s hand is unlucky enough to fall near your iron grip as you watch your little one dash, dart, and dive into summer fun.
In the midst of it all, you’ll wonder: would it be weird to just wrap this kid in bubble wrap? Or maybe cover the house and surrounding property in rubber foam? Scrapes, bumps, and bruises are bound to happen, but a mama can dream.
4. “Will they inherit my weird fears?”
As a kid, I was stung my bees and wasps more times than I can count. As an adult, I immediately revert to a hysterical, shrieking, arm-flailing child whenever a flying insect gets a little too close for comfort. During my first summer with a toddler, I wondered: did my son notice my over-the-top reaction whenever an errant buzz whispered in my ear or a spec of pollen wafted past my periphery? (Spoiler alert: he did).
You too will likely have a similar thought about whatever it is that you’re afraid of—yellowjackets, boats, mosquitos. Even if the fear is totally legitimate, you’ll still worry that you’re traumatizing your child with your reaction to it. This also brings us to the next thought.
5. “Everything is dangerous.”
As a parent of a toddler, you’ll soon realize that summer can be the most fun, but also most dangerous time of year for kids. Pools, large bodies of water, fireworks, bike rides, amusement park rides (even small ones): all these things will cause you untold worry.
You’ll also agonize over things like sun damage and poisoning, poison oak, West Nile virus, dry drowning, and whether your little one will try to escape the backyard if you so much as glance in the other direction.
If your neighbor has a dog, you’ll wonder if it can leap over the fence. You’ll hear stories on the news of tragedies involving children in cars and near cars and you’ll start to feel like nothing and nowhere is safe. Of course, you can’t let these worries stop you and your family from enjoying the summer and living your lives, but you will realize that doing so safely will require extra vigilance on your part.
6. “Could this be more amazing?”
Besides the fears, there’s something about the first summer with an active, alert toddler that is like every holiday rolled into one.
Watching your little one excitedly run through a sprinkler, play in a sandbox, and curiously point to the birds and rabbits in the yard will light up your heart like nothing else.
You’ll watch him push a Fisher-Price lawnmower through the grass as your husband does the same with the real one, and it will lift your soul.
You’ll know your toddler is too young to remember that first toddler summer, but you’ll be so excited to know you’re building your family’s summer traditions—the ones ingrained so deeply they become the literal fabric of childhood. The kind your kids will look back on when they’re adults and feel nostalgic for—and maybe even pass on to their own children.
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