As the song says, 3 is a magic number…yes it is, it’s a magic number. When referring to my daughter’s age, I can think of many other words to describe this time in her life (and hence, ours) other than ‘magical.’ Countless parents warned me that it is not the terrible twos, but the threes that are a killer.
Age two had its own challenges with the addition of a new sibling, but age three has really amped up just like everyone promised. It seems you need to get advanced consent for everything you do for them – things like where you place the ketchup on their plate or the shape you cut their sandwich into. Or else, it may result in a full-on meltdown. They argue with you about the most perplexing things, there’s the talking that won’t cease and question after question that I’m unsure how to answer. Oh, and there’s those really fun, loud comments at Target like “Mom, does she have a baby in her tummy??” And I’m pretty sure she doesn’t. Sigh.
On the other hand, I really enjoy other parts of my daughter’s age. Someone with older children told me it’s the last age they seem “babyish” but they’re also reasoning more and talking up a storm so it’s sorta cute at the same time. I love the things she comes up with and I laugh every single day at something she says. I’m trying to take the good with the bad and still enjoy the age, despite its many challenges.
Speaking of challenges, my husband and stepson took a trip together this past weekend which left me alone with the two little ones for four days. My 3-year-old had a particularly hard time with this, as she didn’t grasp why she couldn’t go too. She cried as they drove away and my heart sank for her. I assured her that Daddy would take her out on a “date” when he returns. I’m not sure how much she understands but the time they were away was difficult for the three of us left at home.
On the first night, she fought sleep and fought it hard – til after 10pm! This is a kid who is usually in bed by 7:30 and definitely asleep by 8pm every night. I think she’s only stayed up past 10 two or three times in her entire 3 1/2 years of life. I’m sure most of it was due to the fact Daddy wasn’t home to tuck her in because she asked for him each time she called me up to say she couldn’t sleep.
By the time night #2 rolled around, my exhaustion level had drastically increased, and thus, patience was wearing thin. My little guy went down without a peep (at least I had that) and once again, M called out to me several times. After the second or third trip up, I told her this was the last time I’d be responding.
Five or ten minutes passed, and I heard her screaming, so of course, up I went. I can’t have her waking the baby, so it’s always hard to know what to do! Long story short, she had bitten her fingernail off and part of it was stuck in her gum between two teeth. I grabbed some dental floss and got to work. Crisis averted. Headed back downstairs. Approximately five minutes passed and then I heard it. “Mommmmmy!!!” I knew I’d hit my limit. I went up and asked in a not so nice tone what she needed. “I still can’t sleep.” I tried holding it together but my frustration got the best of me. Tears began falling as I tried to answer her. She then started crying too, so I laid down next to her, and we cried together in sheer exhaustion. She told me she didn’t want me to be mad at her. Talk about heart-wrenching. I explained to her I wasn’t mad at her, I was just frustrated with the situation and Mommy needs breaks too. And, I felt genuinely frustrated for her that she couldn’t sleep! After that, she crashed out. Maybe that was all she needed was for me to spend that extra time with her, laying there holding her.
This parenting thing is not so easy. I constantly go back and forth between two thought processes: am I letting her manipulate me or am I being too stern and inflexible with her. Her job as a 3-year-old is to test the limits, and my job is to set them. But – I’m only human and when parenting multiple children alone for long periods of time, I’m not always going to be at my best. We all have moments we aren’t proud of and we can’t be too hard on ourselves. I have to remember it’s how I mother her the majority of the time that matters.
As I had said good night to her that final time, she leaned up to kiss me, and I knew we were okay. She is loved and I know she knows that.