As my toddler boy approaches his fourth birthday and subsequent induction into the age group known as “preschoolers,” I reflect on what his third year of life has taught me as a mommy.
I am a woman of personal growth, one who welcomes the inevitability of change and the tests most adjustments administer. I approach challenges with instant fear, yes, but find that smiling and focusing through that paralysis clears my mind of the debilitating cobwebs that halts human mobility. I pick apart each task gingerly, intentionally, and work my way up the ladder towards completion. Once there, I chime happiness and pray that others get to experience the prestige of breakthrough. I am strong and fabulous.
I cannot express more completely how utterly exultant I am for Jrue to be placing “Year Three” in his rearview mirror. I am more excited for his birthday than he is.
This past year, he has made me crazy.
His third year was marked by screaming. There has been a lot of inexplicable screaming. Since he discovered that I can be summoned by the tone he underlines when he recites different versions of “mommy,” he has abused the privilege to the point where I actively ignore him. He will call me repeatedly, hourly, minutely, just to uncover if I’ll shriek at him after the 89th evocation. Jrue will also “ugly cry” when we are not in understanding or unclear on instruction or simply when the moon is full.
Thankfully, as he ages, the memory of him being an only child fades, and he grows closer to the realization that Jai still isn’t leaving. With this consciousness, he rather enjoys harassing his sister, particularly when upset at mom or dad. Kicks, punches, slaps, pushes, hits, thumps, sits on, slides into, head butts, elbow butts, hugs too tightly…Jrue finds a way to vex Jai and, of course, she then responds with a wildly theatrical cry or a strike back. This yields a look of innocent bewilderment from Jrue or screams. Lots of that screaming again.
My son is a great kid. He loves to see people laugh and will make the funniest faces. Jrue’s silent concentration is visible, like a piece of art, as he seems to download everything around him: paralanguage, intonation, accents…he can mimic any one person or commercial or song or inactive piece of machinery. His brain is quite magnificent in this way.
He’s just three and can’t do anything with it.
The “Terrible Twos” is a well-known, well-named phase through which we traversed a milder form. Jrue wasn’t big on tantrums, per say, though, he could hit a high note like no one’s business. There were several months right there before age 3 when Jrue would go around the house and knock over anything his height or taller, but that was attributed to being frustrated with Jai’s sudden appearance. We were prepared for regression and outrage and handled big brother’s spontaneous fits in empathy, knowing that they’d ease once he was used to having a sister.
Three was different.
At age three, Jrue battled with using the potty, taking a nap, eating real food, going to daycare, watching his strength, outgrowing his clothes, swimming in his clothes, and being told “no,” all while learning what it’s like to interact with other kids his age, including a little girl who often follows him too closely around the house. Consequently, “sharing,” in every sense of the word, has been an annoying concept for him.
It has been a huge year of adjustment for Jrue, just as he feuds for an independence and a clear voice. I can feel his indignation in the air. As a mom, I scatter my guilt in admission of circumstance, but that tiny piece of what I’ve put him through is still there and bothers me when I give it permission. However, I know that life is more worth living outside of a box, which is why I have not allowed Jrue to become complacent. It would have been much easier to keep him home, instead of at daycare, still in diapers, eating what he wants and when, and allowing him refuge over his own. But what kind of person would I have been raising?
Admittedly, I had a much sunnier outlook regarding age three before I stumbled through it.
Writer Ian Mendes categorized the milestone in his article, “The terrible twos vs. the terrible threes.” He wrote, “The truth is, three-year-olds are just as bad—but they just don’t have a catchy nickname like the ‘terrible twos.’ If someone had coined the phrase ‘thrashing threes’ or ‘thunderous threes,’ we would learn not to raise our expectations for kids once they turn three.” (Mendes, 2012)
Like most children his age, Jrue is going through so much essential modification at one time that his brain frantically seeks a tepid outlet. I call it a justified reaction to the oppression around him. Quoted in a 2013 article, marriage and family therapist Beth Proudfoot was quoted: “‘Children at this age have a big hardwiring imperative to find ways that they can control and master…people, toys and the environment,’ Proudfoot says. ‘If they find out they can push your buttons and some kind of very exciting thing ensues…well, that’s even more fun.’ . . .’They’re just too young to distinguish negative exciting from positive exciting,’ she adds. ‘And they are compelled by their biological imperative to keep pushing that button.'” (Kuhn, 2013)
Seeing his frustrations from his point of view helps. Just a little.
His year of trying has opened my eyes, though, and has taught me some valuable lessons that I will be ready for once Jai comes upon this pretty age. She won’t sneak up on me. I have acquired:
Really dry sarcasm.
A methodical clean-up process.
The patience of April the Giraffe’s keepers.
And the certainty that payback is a continuously fluid construct.
Jrue’s third year will be the one I fondly look back on when he is 16, I’m sure. I look forward to that time.
Kuhn, Sherri. “Terrible twos? What about the threes?” SheKnows, Oct. 16, 2013, http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/1017025/terrible-twos-what-about-the-threes. Accessed Jun. 6, 2017.
Mendes, Ian. “The terrible twos vs. the terrible threes.” Today’s Parent, Sep. 27, 2012, https://www.todaysparent.com/family/parenting/the-terrible-twos-vs-the-terrible-threes/. Accessed Jun. 6, 2017.