Monday, June 6, 2016

Book Review: Toddlers are A**holes by Bunmi Laditan

"What is a toddler? A toddler is a cross between a sociopath, a rabid animal, a cocker spaniel, a demon, and an angel. Depending on the time of day and when you toddler's last meal was, you will see all of these sides."
-Toddlers Are A**holes, by Bunmi Laditan

My friends, today I'm writing you a blog post I've been dreaming about for ages. It's a book that made me both laugh so hard I almost peed my pants and made me cry with relief that Someone Else Gets It. What book is this? My favorite parenting book EVER: Toddlers Are A**holes by Most Blessed Bunmi Laditan (well, she's blessed by me and a whole bunch of other parents, anyways). And just so you know, this post will be a little different, because I'm really relishing the chance to channel my inner Bunmi I feel that my background and experiences as a parent are highly relevant and give important context.

I'll tell you a secret. I'm a parent, but I'm not usually a fan of parenting books. Why? None of it ever really seems to fit, and the advice never works. Our kids are 3 1/2 (that's an important distinction, but more on that later), 5, and 7. I can't tell you how many times I've thought that the world sets future parents up for failure by making a big fuss about The Terrible Twos. Why is this setting us up for failure? Because the way society so often talks about The Terrible Twos, we end up with the idea that when our little darlings turn 2, they turn terrible, we have a terrible year, and then once they're not 2 anymore, we're out of danger and can breathe safely.

This could not possibly be farther from the truth.

The truth is that the Reign of Terror starts closer to 18 months. By now, our sweet cherubs have gotten a good grip on not just walking, but running, and are working on climbing. This newfound sense of independence makes them think they don't need their parents anymore, despite the opposite being true: we rescue their precious little butts from danger and death more times in the space of an hour than we got potty in an entire day. They're also working on talking, and they've probably started with the favorite word of toddlers everywhere: "NO!". They use it everywhere, accompanied by screeching at the top of their lungs, making it sound like you're ripping their fingernails out. The more public the location and the more judgemental horrified eyes they can draw to you, the happier they are.

Not only does the fun start before 2, it only gets worse as they get older. 3 is worse than 2 and it gets exponentially worse the farther they get into 3 (hence why I specify that my precious angel is 3 1/2), 4 is worse than 3, and 5 is worse than 4. By 6, they're starting to settle down a little, but you may now be seeing a massive spike in ridiculously over-dramatic scenes, which are only improved by their blossoming vocabularies courtesy of school and an expanding social circle. Now, imagine having multiple of these ages at the same time, with the 3 1/2 year old ( 3 1/2 should really be considered it's own age) being *extremely* clingy, to the extent that the phrase "he spent the whole day trying to climb back inside my uterus" falls from your lips on a regular basis, and you're not being hyperbolic.

Am I horrifying you yet? Because trust me, parenting can be horrifying, horrific, and ridiculously lonely.

I used to try reading ordinary parenting books. After my oldest child was born, people extolled the virtues of the What to Expect series. I'll grant you that What to Expect the First Year was at least better than What to Expect When You're Expecting (terrible book that should be renamed How to Convince Yourself You're Failing Your Unborn Baby, I recommend if anyone gives you a copy, you burn it in a trashcan and then invite a priest over for an exorcism, even if you don't believe in that kind of stuff). But After The First Year, the series gets... unhelpful.

I'd read the WTE books and other "normal" parenting books, looking to them in desparation for advice on how to get my child to behave like a civilized human being instead of acting like a demonspawn offspring of lucifer himself, possessed by a rogue Balrog. I wanted to know how to deal with the night terrors, the tantrums, the hitting, throwing food on the floor in rage over the spaghetti sauce not being the right color, and the dreaded finger painting with diaper contents in the middle of the night. The problem: either these books didn't address the problems I was facing, or their advice was unrealistic, or the advice didn't work. I mean, really, if my child is climbing bookshelves to try to get to the book on medieval knife throwing, stopping to do yoga and meditation is decidedly unhelpful. All the loving redirection in the world couldn't convince my darling angels not to throw themselves on the floor in the middle of a very crowded Target yelling "DON'T HURT ME!!!!!" when I had the audacity to insist they hold my hand and walk away from the endcap display of chocolate and energy drinks (dear GOD, that is the LAST thing they need). And I have yet to find a parenting book that addresses the fact that I just had to interrupt writing this book review to go fetch my 3 1/2 year old down from where he had stacked several car seats on a microwave box on top of various Army ruck sacks in order to reach the top of a wardrobe in the front hallway in an attempt to get the crayons I put up there in desperation after cleaning multiple murals off the walls.

Eventually, I decided that parenting books were garbage and stopped bothering. I was convinced that I was the only parent with kids as... creatively misbehaved... as mine. For example, here's a Facebook post I made one day.

The Adventures and Shenanigans of the Dale Children, Volume 20151024, Chapter 8.
Our story continues as our intrepid adventurers continue on their quest to produce the perfect Trial of Patience and Self-Control. After getting a little TOO immersed in their pretend play of Dinosaur Train, the children labored for many minutes to create a nest, diligently stripping the needles off a pine tree branch, and spreading said needles and a smattering of dirt, along with a plastic lei, on the carpet. They worked hard to turn these materials into a nest, which they then watered using Water from L's treasured water bottle. But alas, their parents were less than amused and did their very best T-Rex imitations (they really did have wonderfully loud roars) and didn't appreciate their efforts. This, they were forced to clean up and dispose of the fruits of their labors and were banned from bringing nature inside, from making nests, and from watering the carpet (or any other part of the house outside the bathtub, with this caveat being accompanied by strict instructions). And the children were sad, and there was much wearing and wailing and gnashing of teeth from all parties. And did I mention that this took place as they were "getting ready for bed"?

Posts like this are not an uncommon occurrence for me. Incidents like this (or worse) are even more common, I just don't post everything. Gotta save something for the NYT Bestseller I'm going to write someday and then turn into a stand-up comedy routine.

I was sure that nobody out there understood what I was going through (no really, my kids are.... yeah. I blame my husband.) You can only read so many other parents who say "I would never let my kids... My kids would never... You just need to be firm with them." before you conclude that you're alone in the world amidst all these other families with their Pinterest perfect lives. L-o-n-e-l-y.

One day, that all changed.

I can't remember when exactly Bunmi Laditan came into my life, but I'm guessing either my friend Kristen pointed me to her Facebook page after seeing my posts about some of my kids shenanigans or maybe I looked her up after laughing my butt off at her twitter account HonestToddler. But however it happened, my life changed. Suddenly, I found that I wasn't alone. Bunmi and her followers Got Me. They were in the trenches. They were living my life. In fact, I've lost track of how many times I've read Bunmi's posts and wondered how she found my house to watch through my windows since she's obviously posting about my life. Bunmi and her followers are my people. And they write and converse about it in my native language: Snark & Sarcasm!

All that to bring you to my review.

Toddlers Are A**holes is hands down the best, most realistic, most applicable parenting book I have ever read. Bunmi Laditan knows what it's like to be a parent in the trenches, dealing with kids who are not particularly well-behaved and, dare I say it, even a little difficult. Laditan writes advice that is actually helpful. None of that "Reason with your 2 year old and they will respect you more" nonsense. Laditan goes straight to the helpful cocktail recipes for every occasion. Bunmi Laditan also provides helpful (and laugh inducing) responses to Sanctiparents who say things like "My child would never...". Laditan breaks down what a toddler is (including the age old and often confusing question of what ages constitute a toddler), and gives advice on how to deal with them in a variety of frustrating situations when the advice from mainstream parenting books just isn't working.

In Toddlers Are A**holes, Bunmi Laditan speaks directly to exhausted and worn out (and worn down) parents who feel like we they are on the verge of losing our their marbles, and basically says "Nope, you're not alone, kids are jerks, kids are difficult, parenting is messy, parenting is exhausting, parenting is thankless, and no it's not your fault that your 3 year old is making the entire grocery store think you're plucking out their eyelashes in retribution for not letting them have an entire 5 lb. bag of M&Ms while you shop." Laditan is speaking my language (snark, sarcasm, and self-deprecating humor) and she's telling me that I'm not alone. Do you have any idea how much that means to me?

When I read Toddlers Are A**holes, I laughed a lot. Here's an example of how much I laughed. I usually read a book on my Kindle while I'm lying in a dark room trying to get my kids to sleep. I had to an myself from reading Toddlers Are A**holes while children were sleeping (or trying to get to sleep) because I laughed so much and so hard. I ended up giving myself a stitch in my side at one point from laughing so hard. But you know what? I also cried a little, because reading this book was such a relief. So often, I find myself thinking "I'm a total failure as a parent. My kids don't act the way the books say they should, or the way I see other parents talking about their kids acting. And I definitely don't do all the cool trips and activities with my kids that other parents do. And I've lost track of how many tantrums my kids have had and how many times I've yelled about getting butts down from places they're not supposed to be. And I don't cook breakfast very ofteb, they usually eat no-cook food like cereal, sandwiches, and pop-tarts b/c I can't get them to behave long enough to get a meal cooked (no really, it shouldn't take me MULTIPLE HOURS to get muffins from a Betty Crocker mix in the oven). Ugh. I suck and I'm the only one." But Bunmi Laditan, in both Toddlers Are A**holes and on her Facebook page, tells me that this is not the truth. She tells me that I'm not the only one, I'm not a  failure, I'm not alone, and that there are people out there who Get It, who Get Me. That means more than I can say. If I could recommend any one book to parents (or future parents), it would be this one. This book and Bunmi Laditan herself are treasures and gifts to the world.

The all-important question, of course, is "What drink pairs well with Toddlers Are A**holes"? Usually I give you a specific drink. But this one is special, for this one I'd say... whatever makes you feel better. I, personally, found that shots of Bailey's and Rum really enhanced the book, especially because it got me... well. I got good and loosened up, let's put it that way. My cares melted away and I laughed even harder (I had really sore abs the next morning). I will say that the downside to this was that I had to quit reading when the words started bouncing around the pages and the text started doing the Electric Slide, but hey. Nothing is perfect.

You can find Bunmi Laditan on her Facebook page, Instagram, and her website. Bunmi is also the creator of the Honest Toddler sensation. Check out the HT twitter (@HonestToddler), Facebook page, and website.