The Sh!t No One Tells You About Toddlers


By Dawn Dais

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They’re getting bigger. And you’re not getting any more sleep.

Second in the Sh!t No One Tells You series, in The Sh!t No One Tells You About Toddlers Dawn Dais tells it like it is — again — offering real advice for parents of growing children.

Coming from one empathetic parent to another, the tips in this book are real, clever, honest, and designed to make life with a terrible two- or three-year-old a little bit more manageable. Hilarious, helpful, and handy, this book will be appreciated by any parent who has asked: “Why didn’t anybody warn me that unconditional love would be so much work?”

Filled with tips, encouragement, and a strong dose of humor, The Sh!t No One Tells You About Toddlers is a survival handbook for parents on the edge.




It’s not just your imagination


CHILD(REN) MORNING CHECKLIST (only two allowed, on a good day)

  Get out of bed

    (without tears)

  Get dressed

    (without kicking mommy in the face)

  Eat breakfast

    (while sitting at the table)

  Brush teeth

    (without being chased)

  Put on shoes

    (both shoes)

  Get in the car

    (without having to be bribed)

IM A BIG fan of routine. Of solving problems. Of order and logic. Unfortunately, I am also a parent. In my non-parent life, I’ve done pretty well for myself by putting my mind to certain skills or tasks, learning how to do them, figuring out strategies for success. These strategies tend to work over and over again, after initial periods of trial and error. Sadly, the same techniques that bring me success for everything else in my life are absolute crap when applied to parenting. Most of the time all I feel like I’m doing is error-ing.

I don’t like sucking at things, and most of the time I overwhelmingly feel like I suck at any and all attempts to parent effectively. I feel like those poor scientists who develop the flu vaccine every year only to have the flu virus mutate into something they didn’t protect against. Just when I get a handle on the particular phase my kids are going through, they get bored and move on to some other way of making me feel incompetent.

When I had my second kid, I figured everything I learned from Attempt #1 would surely apply to Attempt #2. I was so disappointed to discover that kids are actually individuals with different personalities, and therefore I couldn’t just reuse most of my previous knowledge. This was the most disheartening of discoveries.

I remember distinctly a time when we were having a rough patch with Vivian. Putting her down at night was getting to be an hours-long undertaking. (Please see Chapter 8: You May Be Too Tired to Sleep Train This Child.) My partner and I were absolutely exhausted from nights spent trying to wrangle the child into bed before 11:00 PM. On this particular night Vivian had been screaming in her crib for quite some time, so we brought her into our bed to try to reset her with a little hypnotic BabyFirst Nighttime TV. This strategy stopped her crying, yes, but now Vivian was running around the house with delight while we lay facedown on our bed, so so ready to sleep. It was 11:30 PM. I screamed into my comforter, “Why do we suck so bad at this???!!!”

Keep in mind that Vivian was not a newborn—we had been at this parenting thing for going on two years. It was completely unacceptable that we had not figured out what the hell was going on. The kid was not all right. Or at the very least the moms weren’t.

As Vivian has gotten older, and now that I’ve started all over with Attempt #2, I’ve come to realize how quickly kids move through different phases. With my first kid everything felt endless, even if it only lasted days. If we were having a particularly bad stretch, I would get overwhelmed by thinking that it was somehow going to last forever—that somehow Vivian would refuse to go to bed before midnight for the rest of her life. It sounds ridiculous when I type it, but it always felt very real at the time. Sucking at something and having absolutely no idea how to get better at it is a tremendously overwhelming feeling for a control freak like me.

So instead of trying to master particular parenting challenges I started focusing on mastering my reaction to the challenges. I try not to let myself get too upset when we hit a rough patch, not to let myself drown in that overwhelming feeling I get when things aren’t going well. I know now that it will pass; sometimes it’ll even pass in a few minutes if I don’t let it get me too worked up.

When Daniel is having a long stretch of horrible teething nights, I constantly remind myself that his sister is sleeping peacefully in the next room: the same sister who required one of us in her room for hours at a time throughout her teething battles. Yes, sometimes it will be days or weeks or even years before we come out of the woods, but somehow knowing that eventually we will be out helps me stay calm. There is also a small possibility that the past four years of not sleeping has just made me too exhausted to get worked up anymore.

Maybe I’ll patent my new Exhaustion Zen method and teach my technique to the masses. I’ll share it with you here.

       STEP 1:  Stop sleeping.

       STEP 2:  Add children.

       STEP 3:  Stare blankly at an unmoving focal point when life starts to stress you out.

Voilà! Inner peace!

Oprah, call me. This is revolutionary.

Moms on the Front Lines


Seeking reassurance that I am not the only one who sucks at parenting, I reached out to my MOFL. They did not disappoint.

Deanna, mom of three, made me feel better, because she’s been failing even longer than I have. She said: “The other night I looked at my husband and said, ‘We’ve been doing this for seven years! How are we so bad at this?!’”

Michelle also felt my pain. “Just when I relax and think, ‘I can do this!’ one of my kids goes and hurts himself. The kids are ever changing, which is exciting and frustrating at the same time. I just try to remember that whatever awful stage they’re in won’t last forever and try to focus on the positive. Also, a glass of wine always helps!”

Michaela shared a common parent failing. “I think we always feel a little bit like we’re ‘sucking at this,’ but I’ve come to realize that’s part of being a first-time parent. We once drove all the way to Vallejo and discovered Sam was not buckled into his car seat. Man, I suck at this.”

I’ve had a car seat mishap too. I buckled the kid in the seat but, because the seat had been used in another car recently, I didn’t realize it wasn’t actually buckled to the car. Details are hard. I swerved to miss another car, and there slid the seat and the child across the backseat. Oopsie.

Sarah B. felt like she sucks on a daily basis. “It’s a rare occasion when I actually feel like I am doing an okay job. More often than not I find myself surrounded by a screaming, crying, barking chaos. Oh, and I have also driven without Drew buckled into his seat. I was sobbing when I told my husband about it that night. Such great memories.”

Deanna detailed her morning attempts at order. “I suck at parenting, especially in the mornings when I’m trying to get everyone up, ready, and out the door on time. Usually my goal is to accomplish this simple daily task without screaming or having anyone in tears. I have come to hate mornings because I suck at them. There have been a few miraculous mornings when I was able to get the three kids and myself dressed, fed, teeth and hair brushed, and belongings in hand with no one screaming or crying. I think I was successful twice this year . . . yay, me!”

Stories like these make my heart happy. Not because we are all horrible parents, and should quite possibly be incarcerated for our poor car seat skills, but because they make me feel so much less alone in my own suckage. When both of the kids are melting down, food is flying, baths are being fought, or we have run out of our go-to bribery fruit snacks, Becky always looks at me and says, “Are we the only ones who are this bad at parenting?”

Knowing that other parents—people I know are good parents—are also struggling means that I can exclaim, “No!! We all suck!!” This makes me feel better, even if it means all our children are doomed.

(Ignore this section, Oprah.)



Bruising is considerably less difficult


WHEN MOST OF us think of toddlers, of course, we usually think of their attitudes and temper tantrums. And yet, the word “toddle” perfectly describes how they look when they first enter this exciting time in their lives. At least it perfectly described my bounding baby boy who started “walking” on his first birthday. Why am I putting walking in quotes? Would I be considered “flying” if I only “flew” for three seconds before I plummeted to the ground? Probably not. Daniel was a short-distance walker at best. But what he lacked in coordination he made up for in really bad reflexes.

Poor Daniel did not have an easy time of it when he first started his toddling. Bam! The fact that we had hardwood floors did not help his situation. Bam! Daniel’s forehead met the floor every five minutes. Bam! I’m not exaggerating to say the child had a bruise on his head (in various states and sizes) for six solid months. The boy looked so incredibly battered I started pointing out the bruises to strangers when we were out in public. My thinking was, if I were actually abusing him I wouldn’t talk so freely about his injuries.

I asked Daniel’s doctor at what point I should officially become alarmed that he was falling on his head 358 times a day. The doctor answered, “As long as he’s not going unconscious he should be fine.”

I looked at her in shock. Really?! That’s my line in the sand?!

Chipper Jen had a similar experience at the doctor’s office. “I remember the doctor saying something about, before the age of two, the plates in kids’ heads actually kinda shift if they hit their heads. I was concerned about Austin literally having brain damage from falling on his head all the time. But he’s fine!!!”

This was all such new territory for me. Of course Vivian had had her share of tumbles when she first started walking, but they were nothing compared to Daniel’s. The boy seemed to have absolutely no regard for his health and safety. Where Vivian was cautious and deliberate, Daniel just barreled ahead without a second thought as to how his attempts at coordination were going to feel when they failed. Things were meant to be climbed on, his legs were meant for running, and gravity was his enemy. It didn’t help matters that his head size was in the ninety-eighth percentile. He was like a Q-tip running around trying to hold his big ol’ head up. Again, gravity working against him.

We had moved into a two-story house shortly before Vivian started walking. We never had to put up a gate at either end of the stairs to keep her safe. We taught her how to climb up and down the stairs, and she was always fine. She would slowly navigate those stairs and took each step with all her concentration. Other parents would come over to our house and look at our stairs in absolute horror as if they were a death trap. We silently judged their out-of-control children.

Then came Daniel.

Now we have four gates in our house, all an attempt to corral this crazy boy. Vivian just shakes her head at how out of control he is. It’s so funny to me that I have such a stereotypical girl and a stereotypical boy. I’ve never thought much of gender stereotypes, probably because I was such a tomboy growing up and couldn’t (and still can’t) be bothered with most “girl” things. But here are these two kids, being raised the exact same way, with completely different motors.

I asked my professionals if it’s true that boys and girls are different. They both poo-pooed the idea, stating that personality was a more deciding factor than gender.

Katie Hurley says, “Some kids seem to enter this world with big personalities and a need to push their own physical boundaries, while others hang back and enjoy the ride. Try not to get caught up in the gender of it all. It’s more about getting to know what makes your child tick than whether your child is a girl or a boy.”

Gail Marie Poverman-Kave also thinks I’m off-base in my thinking that Daniel’s gender has anything to do with the fact that he is insane. “There are many beliefs in our country about boys being wild, impulsive risk takers and girls being calm, patient care givers. There is mounting evidence to suggest that much of what we see and believe in this country is largely a result of parenting and cultural expectations.”

Gail thinks that some of our children’s behavior can be linked to how we parent them. That parents instinctually act differently toward boys than they do toward girls. Personally, Gail is raising her two children to be people first, and their gender second. “Perhaps this approach,” she told me, “could greatly diminish some of the wild behaviors that we tend to see in boys.”

I would really like to side with science on this one, but I don’t think the differences in my children have anything to do with how they are being raised. Vivian is being raised by two mommies. One of her mommies can throw a ball farther than some boys. She had stereotypical “boy” toys since birth and has been made to watch sports and go fishing with Grandpa. And yet, she is still my gentle little girl who will always pick a dress over any other clothes. And Daniel loves dolls and shoes, but he will always choose to risk his life climbing on things rather than sit still for longer than thirty seconds at a time.

I asked my MOFL if they felt like their boys were crazier than their girls. Or how the two genders varied, if at all, in their households.

Brooke, mom of one boy and one girl, feels my pain. “Ugh! Where to begin?”

Leah has two boys who run circles around their sister. “The girls will be coloring quietly for half an hour while the boys destroy the whole house.”

Sarah G., with one girl and three boys, doesn’t see as many stereotypical “girl” characteristics in her daughter. “Bea is being raised around a lot of boys—in our home but also all the boys in the court. So, she isn’t as stereotypically ‘girlie.’ She loves princesses and sparkles, etc., but she’s also all about zombies and being wild! I think some stuff is gender, but I also think kids just have different dispositions.”

I definitely agree that disposition plays a much bigger role in a kid’s overall character than gender. I’m happy that both of my kids will grow up in a house that lets them be whomever they want, and provides them each with the same toys and opportunities.

I’m just gonna buy a couple of extra helmets for the boy . . .

Journal Entry


Becky has been out of town for a few days. She flew up to Washington State to hang out with one of our friends, then the two of them planned a relaxing road trip through Oregon and California to get back to our home. It’s rare that one of us is gone, and it can be difficult juggling two kids with only one parent home.

But Becky is coming home today and I feel like I’ve really kicked the crap out of this parenting thing while she was gone. We had no major meltdowns (me or the children), we accomplished daily goals like getting dressed and bathing without incident, and we even ventured out into the actual world without Mommy rethinking her entire existence. Brava!

Becky has texted to let me know that she is almost home. Our friend she is traveling with will be staying in our spare bedroom. That bedroom doubles as our downstairs diaper-changing station, so I decide to empty out the diaper pail before our guest arrives. You know, to class the place up a bit.

When I open up the back door to take the diaper bag out, the kids dart outside to play. This is fine, as the backyard was designed for them to play freely. And it will only be a minute or so before I call them back in. As I walk back from the trash can I see Daniel playing on the tiny little toddler slide thing in the middle of the lawn. Vivian wants to play too, but needs her shoes. I tell her I’ll grab them for her.

As I walk back inside I pass a lawn chair that is normally not left out unattended while the kids are playing. I had left it out today after I sat in it to watch Vivian in her sand box. I don’t think anything of the chair. I’ll probably sit in it again after I grab Vivi her shoes.

I walk into the house and to the coat closet by the front door. This walk literally takes about three seconds. I hear a THUD, then I hear a Daniel Is Really Really Hurt Shriek. Daniel does a lot of shrieking these days, so I’ve come to recognize what each shriek stands for. His shriek repertoire includes Frustrated, Sad, Angry, Hungry, Confused, and Really Really Hurt. The Really Really Hurt Shriek is loud, then really really quiet as he catches his breath for breaking the sound barrier with his I’m Not Kidding Shriek.

When I’d left Daniel he was on the little slide. Even if he had fallen off that, it was really short and the grass wouldn’t have made him scream like this. I sprint back through the house and find him lying on the cement, with the lawn chair tipped over next to him. Vivian is standing near him, her eyes as wide as saucers. In the literally three seconds I’ve been gone he ran over to the chair, climbed up on it, stood up on it, then flipped it back down to the cement. Oh, dear Lord.

I pick him up in a panic. He is panicking as well. There is blood everywhere. It is coming out of his nose and his mouth. I take him inside and put him on the counter while I wash off his face. All he wants is for me to hold him.

Becky texts, WE JUST PULLED UP.


Becky comes into the house after her relaxing vacation to find Daniel’s face and my white T-shirt covered in blood. She freaks the hell out.

“We need to take him to the emergency room, let’s go, we have to go now.” She is spinning like a top. I am trying to calm her down. Daniel and Vivian are both crying, Daniel shrieking at the sight of his own blood.

Daniel has spent the previous few months doing nothing but falling on his head. He would usually cry after he fell; sometimes he would even do a Daniel-Is-Hurt Shriek. But each time he would be recovered after about ten seconds, ready to take off on his next tumbling adventure.

But not this time. This time he Will. Not. Stop. Shrieking. It is soul-crushing and heartbreaking.

I calm Becky down enough to convince her that a call to the advice nurse might yield quicker results than sitting in an emergency room with a kid who only has a bloody nose.

After a twenty-minute call with the advice nurse listing various things to check on the child, it is determined that Daniel has a bloody nose. And perhaps should be kept away from high things that can tip over near cement.

I collapse on the couch, holding my bloody boy against my shirt, which looks like I lost a knife fight. We all take deep breaths and try to regain our composure. I look over and see my friend, who has just driven on that peaceful road trip with Becky, sitting on the couch, looking a little white.

I laugh and say, “Welcome to our humble home!”



Prepare to eat your words, with a side of karma’s a bitch


BEFORE YOU HAVE kids, when you see a child having a tantrum in a public place, you likely silently judge the parent, thinking: “Get it together, lady. Your kid is a disaster.”

After you have kids, if you see a mom dealing with a “disaster” in the grocery store, your instinct will likely be to head to the liquor aisle to buy her a bottle of wine. And a straw.

If you have a toddler, it is inevitable that someday you will be that mother in the store (or the park, or preschool drop-off, or a dressing room, or your own friggin’ driveway) whose child has forgotten how to be a functioning human being. When tantrums start to happen, especially the first couple of times, they will be nearly incomprehensible. “What? Why? You were so happy just a minute ago. Where did we go wrong? Are the fluorescent lights scrambling your brain?”

You start to think, “Is this my karma for judging other parents for so many years? Do I have to repent by suffering through as many breakdowns as I rolled my eyes at?” The answer is yes.

When your kid first enters the Tantrum Years, and demonstrates such in public, you will be horrified, confused, and panic-stricken. First you will try to rationalize with the child. When that fails you will look around in horror, wanting to hide (yourself or the child) in a discount bin to avoid anyone seeing you failing so completely at parenting. Your heart will be racing, your face will be bright red, and your hands will be shaking. No, this isn’t a heart attack. It is the next three to fifteen years of your life.


On Sale
Sep 15, 2015
Page Count
240 pages
Seal Press

Dawn Dais

About the Author

Dawn Dais is the author of The Sh!t No One Tells You… series, The Nonrunner's Marathon Guide for Women, and more. She has been featured by countless TV and print media sources. She lives in Roseville, California, with her two kids, one dog, four chickens, two cats, and the occasional mouse brought into the home by said cats. She is tired. 

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