Monday, March 29, 2010

Terrible twos are a year late

Ask any so-called child development expert and they will tell you that the twos are terrible. Ask any parent and they will swear that their 2-year-old was way easier than their 3-year-old.

I agree. And so does a mommy friend of mine who recently told me that 3-year-olds being easier than 2-year-olds was "the biggest lie" she'd ever been told.

Looking back the twos were not so terrible. The tantrums were actually amusing and nothing to take personally. My personal favorite was the one he threw because he wanted to watch me cut EVERY piece of fruit for his breakfast. Classic toddler schizophrenic behavior ... hysterical one minute, calm as a could be the next. Not only that, he shows classic signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder. If he doesn't get to do something his way, he goes back and does it again ... from the beginning. Seriously, this kid has stripped off a shirt, turned off lights and put a bowl of oatmeal back on the counter so he could go back and do it himself.

Though I pick my battles very carefully, there are still battles, or, as I like to call them, sneak attacks. It's the little things that become part of his routine, often unbeknownst to me until he's had a complete meltdown in some completely foreign and shrill language. For instance, our breakfast routine is now pretty well-scripted. One morning I made the mistake of putting his straw in the cup for him and laying out his toothpick next to his fruit cup

He handed the straw back to me and said, in a whiny, slightly panicked voice, "A person needs a straw."

Confused mommy says what?

"Just give it to a person," he explains and frantically searches my face for signs that I may possibly understand him.

What? (I really haven't had enough coffee to comprehend this.)

"Just put the straw in my hand," he squeals, on the verge on hysterics and hyperventilation.

Well, why didn't you say so in the first place, Napoleon?

After the straw segment of our dance comes the toothpick. (oh and did I mention that he likes the straw to be the same color as his cup? I've yet to find a pack of straws with just blue and green ones. anyone?)

I tip the toothpick box toward him and he very judiciously selects his fruit-stabbing implement (apparently there's a science to this). A few days ago, he decided that he wants to hold the box himself.

All this and you probably think I spend my day living in fear of and catering to a tyrannical tot. I don't, really. I've just found that an extra minute (and several deep breaths) here or there to let him pick out his own toothpick or put on his own sock or try to tighten his own laces gives him some confidence, me a lesson in patience and makes the house just a little quieter and less hysterical.

It seems that the main differences between the second and third year, at least in the eyes of parents on their first slog through toddlerhood, are weariness and expectations. The tantrums are getting old; the struggles for control become more contentious; the disobedience and downright stubbornness are maddening. The sweet, sweet memories of his baby years far behind us and with no experience of older, more settled children to rely on, I often feel adrift in the middle of stormy ocean, no land in sight. Some nights after he goes to bed, I read some blog posts and look at photos from he was under 18 months old. It helps me patiently face another day with him.

It's not all bad, though. My 3-year-old is becoming very independent. He can pick out his own clothes and dress himself, at least down to one sock. At least one item of clothing is on backwards, usually his underwear. He swears the pee pee hole should go in the back. Lately, he's been coming down with ALL of his clothes on backwards and squealing insistently that, "No, they on RIGHT WAY." He then tops off the outfit with his Spiderman rain boots no matter the weather and he's set for the day (hopefully, he'll get some fashion sense before he goes to preschool in the fall). It provides much needed comic relief. He can entertain himself for long periods, he's eager to help if you give him some direction and he loves to help his sister get in and out of her car seat buckle (when he's not pushing her around).

But my expectations keep me believing that, by now, my days shouldn't feel like my favorite line from the movie "Groundhog Day":

"Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today."

Every day, we have the same conversations about the pee pee hole going in the front, not the back, saying please, saying thank you, not hitting or pushing sister, putting poopy in the potty, keeping toys out of the kitchen, wiping your nose and face with a napkin and not your sleeve, and on and on and on. There are ever-so-slight shifts in behavior and attitude that often go unnoticed, until one day it hits me that, for instance, he now says thanks every time someone gives him something or does something for him.

This evening at dinner, he said something that I'm sure he intended one way, but was completely appropos to the whole 3-year-old experience thus far.

"I good at pushing buttons with you, mommy."

Yes, kid, whatever you think you mean, you are correct in ways you can't even comprehend yet!

(and I still have no clue what he was talking about)

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