I crouched in front of my daughter before leaving for work. “Ekimo kiss,” she announced, rubbing her nose back and forth vigorously against mine. “Buffly kiss,” she requested, offering her cheek for me to bat my eyelashes against. “We always love each other,” she reminded me. I wanted to eat her up. She had just turned three years old, and she was adorable, delightful, and undeniably edible. Of course, we all know that’s not the full picture …
Most veteran parents can attest to the fact that the “Terrible Twos” is an urban parenting myth—worse than that, it’s actually kind of a cruel trick. First time parents are flabbergasted by their toddler’s unwillingness to cooperate, intense requests with limited language skills, difficulty coping with disappointment, and proclivities for wearing the same filthy Elsa shirt day in and day out. They’ve bought in to the propaganda: their two-year-old is indeed terrible.
And then, as they near age three, could it be … ? Their child’s behavior has actually grown worse?
All of a sudden, their preschooler has armed him or herself with an arsenal of new vocabulary words with which to sling at Mommy in a fit of rage. They are unpredictable, demanding, and fortheloveofgod, do they ever shut up?
If your two-year-old was terrible, this person in front of you kind of actually sucks.
My toddler turned three today, and I’ll admit—I was a bit melancholy. It’s hard for me to accept that her babyhood has ended, but even more than that? I know what’s coming.
She was my second child, so I knew to savor the entire year she spent as a two-year-old. Snuggling, babbling adorably, rocking nicely at bedtime each night and then quickly falling asleep, stringing together longer and longer sentences each day, taking two-three hour naps every single day. I knew it would soon be replaced by loud, disturbing meltdowns whose causes would be varying, befuddling, and absolutely unforeseeable. There may even be the aggressive blowing-out-of-snot from one’s nostrils that had become a frequent reaction to disappointment for my firstborn.
Sure enough, my youngest child had become a contrarian, a master negotiator, a bedtime-delayer, a nap-refuser, and a vitamin thief in the weeks approaching her third birthday. I pined for the days when I would tuck her in with a kiss, close the door, and not hear from her for 12 hours. These days, after rocking, lullabies, and a squirmy, protest-filled tuck-in, my oldest daughter and I are usually interrupted mid-Ramona-and-Her-Father paragraph within minutes. The sippy cup wasn’t full enough. Night-night bunny wasn’t cold enough (WTF. Don’t even ask.), she wanted a blanket underneath her, her legs hurt, could she please get some “T.I.D” in the morning (she apparently thinks spelling words that aren’t actually words makes her sound authoritative), and other such ridiculousness.
A few nights ago, I heard her jabbering and banging the wall half an hour after I’d tucked her in; when I barged into her room with irritation, I found her standing amidst her blankets with her hands on the wall and Scotch tape in her hands and inexplicably in her hair. Her eyes widened when she saw me.
“What are you doing?” I pressed her.
“Nussing!” she chirped pleasantly.
“It doesn’t look like nothing,” I replied with the sinking realization that I had become a walking cliché straight out of the “Shit Parents Say” handbook. All thanks to my not-even-three-(how-the-hell-will-we-survive-this-next-year?) year-old.
She had become a walking tornado, literally poking holes in every piece of paper she could find, scrawling all over her big sister’s math homework (I mean, to be fair, she was super excited she had mastered the “pincher (pincer) grip” and just wanted to practice), staring purposefully at me before running a magic marker over the kitchen table, hiding behind chairs at bedtime, collapsing into a limp pile and loudly lamenting that “her legs wouldn’t work” any time we faced a daily transition, and exploding with indignation whenever it was time for a nap. (And, um, she also occasionally says “dammit” when frustrated. Full disclosure.)
And then of course sometimes three-year-olds are wonderful (People will say mean things to me if I don’t at least mention that). The other day my daughter and I spent a harmonious morning together, chatting merrily in the car, enjoying each other’s company; she charmed every stranger she came into contact with with her outgoing banter and winning smile. She took a two-and-a-half hour nap that day; her imagination was out in full force as she and her big sister had adventures in the family room. She snuggled into me when I rocked her at night. It was fantastic.
She can be totally awesome.
The next day, she spent a 20-minute car ride crying incessantly and whining, as though channeling “Pat” from Saturday Night Live, about the following unacceptable conditions:
- Her pants were long. (Dude, they were size 24 months. High waters, at best.)
- The traffic light was the wrong color.
- That lady had too many dogs.
- I was singing along to the music.
- She didn’t see the schoolbus.
- She didn’t get to wave goodbye to the firetruck.
- Her fingers were “so small.”
Most of us know it’s true: The Terrible Twos have nothing on Three. But for the love of God, when another parent tells you that they are having a tough time with their two-year-old, please refrain from informing them that three years old is so, so much worse. That would result in some justifiable face-punching. While it may be true, nobody likes the bearer of bad news, and plus, you sort of sound like a know-it-all asshat when you tell people that things get worse. (I can’t say I’ve never been guilty of that one. It’s somehow sort of satisfying to pour a handful of glitter-speckled lice on the head of an unsuspecting new parent. Wait, did I just say that?)
So parents of three-year-olds, let’s make a deal. We’ll help each other wade through the murky, whiny, irrational waters of Three Years Old, but let’s not spoil things for the freshmen. Let them discover on their own that they had it easy back in the day—they’ll find out soon enough.
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