A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

By Nina Pajak

Each year since I became a mother, I take a moment to reflect on what I’ve learned over the past 365 days of parenting. And as my daughter just celebrated her third birthday, it seems to be that time again. Listen, I won’t beat around the bush. If you’ve yet to embark on your child’s toddlerhood, you’re in for a bumpy ride. These kids will break you down until you’re nothing, you don’t remember why you’re here or what you want or even your own name. Then they’ll give you the sweetest hug you’ve ever received and tell you they love you, and then you can’t remember why you couldn’t remember anything to begin with. But let’s try to look at it as a year of teachable moments and valuable parenting experience. I’m not entirely sure how these life lessons compare to those of the past, as I obviously remember absolutely nothing before, say, maybe four days ago. In fact, the first thing to know about parenthood is that it turns you into the guy from Memento and you’d pretty much have to tattoo your whole body to recall any useful bit of hard-earned wisdom you may once have fleetingly possessed. That being said, here’s a year’s worth of sagacity which I impart to you. Or at least, it’s my best guess.

  1. It’s best to learn a new language. As toddlers develop language, and even before they are able to express themselves verbally, it becomes clear that they are always listening. Spelling certain key words in front of them is effective, up to a point. Because it isn’t always enough to just spell the key noun that might be a trigger. To whit: “Should we let her W-A-T-C-H a S-H-O-W?” Or: “The C-H-O-C-O-L-A-T-E is in the upper right C-A-B-I-N-E-T.” Just imagine how difficult it is to decipher this type of sentence on the other side. And then comes the part when your illiterate child memorizes the meaning of I-C-E-C-R-E-A-M. What now, eh? If there was ever a time I wished I knew Yiddish, it’s now.
  2. Ignore, ignore, ignore. Screaming tantrum because she dropped her lollipop and you don’t have a new one to replace it after you repeatedly warned her not to play with it like a toy? Ignore. Demanding that you go get her something which is six inches from her and a room away from you? Ignore. “Mommy mommy mommy mommy moooooommmmmmyyyyy mommy mommy MOMMY!!!!!” Ignore. Toddler rage brought on by being given the “wrong” pair of socks? IGNORE. TBD how this all works out, but seems unlikely she’ll endure any real trauma.
  3. Choices are a terrific trick. It’s great for young kids to feel empowered to make their own choices, and oftentimes it helps to get a resistant kid to fall into line. But here’s the trick: you only offer “choices” that get you what you want. Example: Child won’t take a bath. “Okay, do you want mommy to give you a bath or daddy?” Perhaps child won’t remove pajamas. “Do you want to wear this dress? Or this fun outfit?” “Do you want to walk to school or sit in the stroller?” See how that works? Like a charm, until they learn to say “nobody,” “nothing,” and “neither.” But that’s a lesson for another time.
  4. When choices fail, pick for them, but pick the thing you don’t want them to pick. It’s not that complicated. Like this: “Chicken fingers or plain pasta? Fine, if you won’t say what you want for dinner, then I’ll pick pasta.” Invariably the response will come back: “NO! Chicken fingers.” Protein: accomplished. “If you won’t say whether you want to walk or sit in the stroller, then I’ll pick walking.” And sure enough, “NO! Stroller.” Anyone who tells you they don’t lie to or trick their kids is lying themselves.
  5. And on that subject . . . there are always going to be people who like to give advice about proper toddler discipline and only using positive reinforcement or not “letting” your toddler fight back or how television is unnecessary for kids or how you should consider making your own cashew milk and that their kids don’t even like cake because they’ve barely tasted it. And to those people, there is only one response: “good for you.” Congratulate them on how well they’re managing their lives and their toddlers. Now you turn back to your business and do whatever you’ve got to do to get through the day, because survival is job #1.
  6. No matter how bad things get, remember that you’re still lucky. No, seriously though. This is uncharacteristically cheesy, I know, but it helps. Think of people who wish they could be in your place but can’t for whatever tragic reason. Think of people who would love to have your problems. Think of your life, but imagine you’d never had your child. Now that tantrum over watching another episode of “Caillou” doesn’t seem so unbearable, does it?
  7. Don’t let your kid start watching Caillou. He’s like, what, four? Why doesn’t he have hair? What kind of name is Caillou? Why doesn’t anyone in his life acknowledge how irritating he is? What is the moral of the story, ever? Why has this show been on for so long? Honestly. If there’s one piece of advice I can pass down, heed this.

Nina Pajak is a writer living with her husband, daughter and dog in Queens. Connect with Nina on Twitter!