The Myth of the Perfect Toddler

06/01/2015 03:03 pm ET | Updated Jun 01, 2016
Meredith Hale

"My child never did that."

I hear this a lot these days, as my 2-year-old finds new and creative ways to make me want to sink into the floor. "My son never flung himself on the floor of a restaurant." "My daughter never attempted to eat shampoo." "My child never did (insert inappropriate, possibly illegal, activity here)." It seems like every parent besides me has somehow managed to raise the perfect toddler.

But I'm starting to wonder about this "perfect toddler." They seem to exist more in memory than in reality. I've noticed that those parents regaling me with tales of well-behaved, docile toddlers are either immersed in nostalgia or are too exhausted to notice their toddler has emptied the entire refrigerator and placed all the eggs in individual Tupperware containers.

I'm convinced that this perfect toddler is a mythical creature, a bit like a unicorn or delicious sugar-free ice cream. What does this perfect toddler look like? Here are five traits of the mythical, perfect toddler, should you happen to see one in the wild, calmly eyeing the toy aisle at Target without a hint of malice in his eyes.

1. The perfect toddler is well-behaved in public. The perfect toddler never makes a scene, even when denied a cookie at the store because "broccoli is healthy and delicious." This mythical being cheerily follows his parents through art museums, listening intently as his father expounds on the differences between impressionism and pointillism, never uttering a sound. The perfect toddler has never once thrown a tantrum, never screamed out "that man has no hair!" and never run out of a public bathroom half-naked, racing toward the toy store like he's training for the 100-meter dash. And he never stains his clothing, because perfect toddlers are always presentable.

2. The perfect toddler has never heard of an oral fixation. Well, in all fairness, I doubt any child has heard of an "oral fixation." But the perfect toddler never puts anything in her mouth that isn't meant to be edible. The remote control, Mommy's iPhone, a pile of wood chips at the playground -- none of these has ever seen the inside of the perfect toddler's mouth. Oh, yes, and the perfect toddler never sucked her thumb or used a binkie -- and if she did, when it was time to give it up, she penned a heartfelt goodbye, watched a Lifetime movie, and moved on with her life.

3. The perfect toddler respects others' personal space. You know that feeling when you're lying on the couch, Gilmore Girls playing on the TV, a cozy blanket enveloping you like a warm hug -- and then all of a sudden you feel 30 pounds of wiggling human land on your head? No? That's probably because you have a perfect toddler, who keeps his distance as though he's observing a restraining order. The perfect toddler never jumps on your lap when you're eating or hits his sister just to see what happens. Like Patrick Swayze explaining "this is my dance space, this is yours," he understands that parents are people, and people sometimes need their space.

4. The perfect toddler quotes Nietzsche and solves quadratic equations. Apparently, the early childhood years are no longer about exploring the world and learning to pick childproof locks. Now all the cool toddlers are watching YouTube tutorials and using apps to learn to read, add, and write their early admission essays to Harvard. The perfect toddler is so beyond saying "I love you, Mommy." Instead, he's composing Elizabethan sonnets expressing his admiration in iambic pentameter. The perfect toddler is ready for medical school -- even if he can't yet tie his shoelaces.

5. The perfect toddler came out of the womb using the potty. I'm currently training my son, and I get asked a lot, "How old is he?" "Two and a half," I answer sheepishly, knowing what's coming next. "Oh, my child was using the potty at 18 months." Or, "my daughter trained herself -- and then published a book about her method to help other, less perfect toddlers." Or, "according to the ultrasound, my son set up a porta-potty in the womb." The perfect toddler is beyond pull-ups and accidents. In fact, the perfect toddler never has to use the bathroom at all.

Yes, I hear a lot about this mythical perfect toddler. But when it's all said and done, I'll take my imperfect toddler any day of the week. Yes, he may climb onto my head when I'm emailing a client, or scream when denied ice cream or attempt to eat his sister's homework. And yes, I'm starting to think he may go to prom in a pull-up. But he's also sweet, and curious, and tries his best to conquer something new each day. And that process, as imperfect as it may be, is both humbling and wondrous. As far as I'm concerned, my noisy, peanut-butter-covered little guy is perfect, just the way he is.

This post originally appeared on the blog Mommy A to Z. Follow Mommy A to Z on Facebook and Twitter.