6 Things Toddlers Just Don’t Understand

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things toddlers don't understand

I admit, my three year-old is pretty smart. Three out of four of his grandparents think he’s a genius. He can name every member of the Paw Patrol, knows pee comes out of his penis, and can download new episodes of Daniel Tiger on my iPad while I’m busy watching singles steeped in chardonnay and hot tubs fall in love on national TV. But then there are times when the simplest things elude him and I fear I will one day watch him slip an overdesigned Neil Lane diamond on the ring finger of a woman he met in a hot tub two hours ago.

I know I’m not alone in this educational battle of futility. As clever as most grandparents think their grandkids are, there are just some things toddlers don’t get. Until they understand the following six concepts, the stench of disappointment will circle them like three-day old avocado trapped in a neck roll.

1. Advent Calendars: Holidays are already so confusing and contrary to young, impressionable minds. Hey kids! During a short, specified window of time, find an old fat dude, crawl into his lap, and beg for validation in hopes he will break into your house and bring you material goods. Next to Santa’s pandering for presents, the advent calendar is the holiday’s biggest jerk. Do kids really need a freakin’ daily gift-bearing countdown to the happiest, most over-stimulating, anti-climactic day of their life? Then suddenly it’s the day after Christmas, the well has dried up like Angela Lansbury’s vagina and your toddler is left confused as to why the paper gingerbread man has stopped doling out gumdrops and mini dice erasers. It’s not a “countdown to Christmas.” It’s a sad reminder that every day between December 26th and November 30th sucks.

2. Conveyer Belt Sushi: What’s cooler than a constant parade of laboriously prepared, evocatively presented food designed to entice a discerning palate? Nothing! This should be a toddler dream except they’re bad at sharing and resource guard like a feral dog. Hell hath no fury like a three year-old who thinks someone is absconding with their food. Watch as your toddler turns into a spaceship blitzing flyer saucer.  Dishes clang, rainbow rolls sail overhead, and other patrons wonder why you don’t just give that kid an iPad.

Trust me, have a wad of cash and directions to the nearest Denny’s handy.

3. Consignment Shops: Anyone with kids will agree consignment shops are worth their weight in rubber boots. While at our neighborhood store, my son wandered to the back where they kept the toys and unearthed an enormous box of Thomas trains offered at a huge discount.


“You’re in luck,” the sales clerk said. “Those just came in.”

Luck indeed! It was a major score– at least 75% off retail and miraculously included some trains we didn’t already have. So I bought the whole lot, feeling like a budget bride at the Kleinfeld’s sample sale.

When we stopped in again a couple months later, my son ran straight to the back of the store ready to collect his hoard. Only the Universe hates greedy toddlers and the mothers who rear them so naturally, there wasn’t a drop of Thomas to be had. Of course not knowing what you’re going to get is the nature of consignment stores. One might think that’s exciting. Or rather, not a big friggin deal. But alas, “that’s how consignment shops are” is not a reasonable argument for a two year-old. The dearth of trains was a crushing blow met with sobbing, flopping on the floor, and cries of why why why? My kid was upset too.

4. Something is Not a Thing: At any given moment I want something. A faster metabolism. A gin and tonic. To be alone with my DVR full of Bravo television. Toddlers are no different in their yearnings. They are, however, different in their inability to categorize their wants. Adults can usually recognize what bucket the need falls into: physical, emotional, chocolate or alcohol. A toddler only recognizes the need and leaves it up to you, dear primary caregiver, to satisfy it.

My toddler and I have almost daily conversations that go something like this:

HIM: “I want something!”

ME: “What do you want?”


ME: “Something to eat?”

HIM: “NO! Something!”

ME: “Are you hurt?”

HIM: “I need something!”

ME: “Something like a Band-Aid or something like a Nutella sandwich?”

HIM: “NO! Different something!”

Look kids, something is not a thing. I mean, it is, but not like a real thing? Just an ambiguous word to define a real thing, you know? Oh, forget it. Is it bigger than a breadbox?

5. Toast: I’m sorry that the warm bread that came out of the toaster was hot and crunchy. That is toast, my child. It is not broken. Next time please ask for bread.

6. Swing sets in other people’s yards: We take our kids to parks for fresh air, green grass, and eliminating the need to clutter up our own backyards with cheap plastic playground toys.

The other day while on a walk, my son pointed and asked if he could go to the park.

“We’re not near a park,” I said.

“RIGHT THERE!” he yelled, pulling me towards an unassuming craftsman.

There in the front yard was a big, wooden play monstrosity complete with tire swing, slide, and trapeze. I admit, it was bad ass.

“Oh, honey,” I said in the soothing voice I reserve for bartenders and small humans on the verge of a meltdown. “That’s not a park. That’s someone’s private swingset.”

But it was outside, climbable, and not in use so heck yeah he wanted in on that action! As I was dragged through someone’s freshly pruned boxwoods trying to explain the concept of trespassing, I marveled at how many playground sets were available through Amazon Prime.

Come on, kids! Knowledge is power! Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go. My toddler is wiring our house for surround sound and he just can’t figure out how to open a ladder.

About the Author

Shelly Mazzanoble is an author and playwright who has recently published essays with Scary Mommy, In the Powder Room, Blunt Moms, Pregnant Chicken, and authors the humorous parenting column Mom in the Middle for Seattle-based parenting network PEPs. She is the mother of a toddler who provides endless fodder and thankfully hasn’t learned the word “litigation.” Visit her blog, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.



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