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1. The list of demands aren’t always clear, but when they are announced, they are often impossibly specific.
When you ask them what they want, they get so absorbed in the question that their tiny toddler brains seemingly overheat and they stammer and stutter as they try to get the words out. Saliva runs down their chin, and a circuitous, long-winded statement finally spills out like floodwater that’s been building up behind the earthworks: I wan…I want…I want to go to a movie like the Foe-zen, but I wanna bring my Lego puppy. We could have a pizza. On a Tuesday, on a rocket ship. When you tell them that their request isn’t possible, they lose it. With toddlers, every request is a potential Kobayashi Maru.
2. They protest even when you give them exactly what they want.
At lunch, after you rattle through all of the various food options, they insist upon a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but only if it’s in a triangle shape with peanut butter on the top bread and jelly on the bottom bread. Any deviance from this order is met with screams FedEx’ed from the pit of hell. But when you finally hand over the perfect isosceles sandwich and silently congratulate yourself on the culinary masterpiece you’ve created, they just look at it, sniff, and push it away before howling, “BUT I SAID PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY!” Crestfallen, you meekly reply, “But that’s what I gave you!”
3. Just when you think the negotiations are going well, the subject’s demeanor changes instantly.
The child is all hugs and cuddles one moment, but then suddenly, they lunge toward your face and scream, I EAT YOUR FACE LIKE A T-REX! OM NOM NOM NOM NOM! Within seconds, your face is covered in enough toddler slobber to keep the CDC in business for years.
4. Rational, everyday conversations go on for some time, then turn delusional and nonsensical in a moment.
You might have planned on going to the park after lunch, and you both may have talked at length about what your toddler plans to do there — go down the slide, go on the big-boy swing — but on the way there, your toddler stops mid-conversation, and from the backseat all you hear is a guttural muttering and you glance back to see them tossing their head from side to side, the Dum-Dum they got for going to the bathroom in the “big boy toilet” dangling from their mouth. They laugh maniacally for a few moments, stick their fingers into their eyes, and the only thing they say is, “Eyeballs!” It’s like The Exorcist, only stickier.
5. When negotiations go south, they do so in a hurry.
A completely minor disagreement — about whether or not there are, in fact, five goldfish snacks on the plate — can spiral into a paroxysm of tears and a tornado of writhing limbs in seconds. Even when you count the goldfish out to them — and they count along — they disagree.
6. Threats and bribery are omnipresent.
Already dissatisfied with the idea of negotiation to begin with, the toddler’s threat is obvious: the quivering pout lip is ready to morph into first a grotesque sneer and then into the gaping maw that leads to parenting hell: a tantrum. Your threats — about time-outs and telling Santa — are mostly empty. Let’s be honest, you’re not going to be withholding presents from a one-and-half-year old at Christmas.
To a toddler, tears are currency, and if they print enough money, they know there’s a good chance they can eventually cash in.
7. Even when you both want the same thing, it still might be trouble.
Even when there are obvious points of agreement — it’s fun to see Grandma and Grandpa at the restaurant — the toddler still refuses to cooperate, often because they somehow lose the ability to stand, let alone walk. (This is even more perplexing because this is the same child who has done little else all day except sprint from room to room scattering toys like some sort of dust devil.)
When you finally pull into the parking lot at the restaurant — the trip they’ve demanded all week — they suddenly wail, “No! I don’t want to go to restaurant! I want to have pizza in Minne-nap-olis!” This is despite the fact that they have only visited Minneapolis in utero, and have never had pizza there.
8. There is no such thing as victory, only a delay of the inevitable.
On occasion, thanks to a combination of the vagaries of the toddler’s mood, parental preparedness (snacks!) and perhaps a fortuitous alignment of the planets, a negotiation with a toddler goes well. The toddler uses the bathroom, helps dress themselves, and even finds and puts on (!) their coat. This can cause the shocked (and relieved) parents to imagine that the days of constant battles won’t last forever. But then, when it comes time to load them into the car seat, they roll over and attempt to spin away: “I don’t want to sit in that seat. You sit there. Daddy, I want to drive!”
Brett Ortler is the author of a number of non-fiction books, including Dinosaur Discovery Activity Book, The Beginner’s Guide to Ship Watching on the Great Lakes, Minnesota Trivia Don’tcha Know!, and several others. His writing has appeared in Salon, at Yahoo! as well as at The Good Men Project, and on The Nervous Breakdown, among many other venues. A husband and father, his house is full of children, pets, and noise.