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New Mom Dispatch: 2-year-old vs the stairs

Learning the parenthood ropes one month at a time


Recently when my husband came home from work, I overheard him asking our daughter, Fiona, about why she had a frog sticker on her shirt. “Because,” she replied, “because, because… stairs!” Last week when talking to a real estate broker about why we were thinking of moving to a new apartment after our second baby arrives, at considerable expense and effort, I found myself thinking, “because, because… stairs!”

The stairs in question are the two steep flights leading up to our third-floor apartment. For the last six or so months, 2-year-old Fiona has waged a stubborn war against climbing them. Her campaign takes many forms: passive resistance (pretending to “nap” on the steps, going limp as we do a sort of drag-shuffle); not-so-passive resistance (running away down the hall); reasonable reasoning (“I’m tired”); unreasonable reasoning (“Fi a baby, carry me”), and so forth. Going down is no picnic either, though lately she’ll do it, just very slowly. In the mornings, I try to allot 30 minutes for us to get to school: 15 minutes to walk down the stairs and 15 minutes to walk the half-mile distance with a stroller. It’s not a question of capability: She’ll gamely climb other people’s stairs and thinks it’s super funny to quickly scamper up to the fourth floor when I’m halfway down to the second. Rather, it is a question of will.

People might think we’re crazy to consider moving out of a place that we own and love because of a toddler’s resistance. It is crazy. But as any parent knows, so is the willpower of a 2-year-old. And being nine months pregnant and held captive in my home by a short, otherwise charming dictator is making me a little crazy, too.

Certainly there are more dramatic, harder parenting challenges. But to me, the stair battle represents the kind of low-level, ubiquitous tug-of-war that can make parenting so demanding yet is nearly impossible to describe for anyone who hasn’t been there. (Akin to asking a mom of a newborn what she did all day or a dad about why exactly it took so long to get from “Bedtime!” to sleeping kids.) On the flip side, making headway through these situations via tiny daily victories yields great satisfaction.

So… how to make that headway? Often we just grow impatient and carry Fiona up the steps. But as my pregnancy has progressed, I’ve steadily mounted a counter campaign, trying all the tactics in my limited arsenal: counting 1-2-3; acting as if I don’t care; empathizing using Dr. Harvey Karp’s caveman toddler-ese; sternly ordering; pleading; and trying to employ a patient, “slow parenting” mindset.

The thing is, I get it. Going up and down stairs that come up to one’s knees isn’t appealing. And for what? So we’re not late? What is this “late” big people incessantly speak of and why should Fi care? What not turn every trip up and down into a game? Why rush up only to get marched off to a nap? What, as any economist would ask, is her incentive? Well, not frog stickers, I can tell you that. Those worked for about two days. Though recently, we’ve had much better results with chocolate chips. Two flights, two chips.

Ultimately I predict we’ll stay put in our apartment (depending on how it goes with the two kids sharing an itty-bitty room; stay tuned). Like most things that seem so hard at the moment, hopefully the Great Stair War of 2017-18 will fade away. And soon it’ll just be a memory, perhaps forever evoked by the taste of chocolate chips.

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