Here are a few descriptors of my current three year old wonder :: smart, sassy, hilarious, embarrassing, delighted by the world, empathetic, prone to being dragged out of buildings while shouting her displeasure to the world, exhausting, adorable, determined, passionate. Much of it will serve her well in life, much of it often leaves me feeling bedraggled by bedtime.
The twos have a reputation, but the threes sneak in and leave you prostrate on the floor contemplating what you have done to deserve this and if there will ever be sanity in your home again…and at the depth of your despair, they sidle up to you and snuggle in and say, “It’s okay, mama, I’m right here. Why is your mouth turned down? Be happy!”
This is my third time at the three year old rodeo and it has surprised me all over again; how does that happen? It’s like childbirth, you forget the finer details or else the human race might cease to exist.
But also like childbirth, there is such raw beauty and strength and wonder tucked into the struggle that comes with three. The rate at which they are picking up new vocabulary words that seem bigger than their entire bodies or their sheer joy at a new accomplishment or the depth of their enormous feelings that are most certainly bigger than their bodies or the miracle of how they are learning to be a person in relation to and with other people; they are a revelation every day.
I was in the hospital with my older daughter very recently and we were stuck in a sort of purgatory in which I had no control, where everyone was making decisions that were frustrating and ill-informed and although I knew that the only way through it was through it, I just wanted to go home. I really, really wanted to go home, but I couldn’t because that decision was not mine to make; and in that moment I had an epiphany of sorts about my three year old. This is how she feels on the daily, and in this moment, I would’ve loved to have the internal fortitude to make a fuss, to stand up and march forward and insist that WE ARE LEAVING, to perhaps lay on the floor and have a good cry when that did not work out, and maybe beg someone for a cookie and a cuddle. It made all the sense in the world in that moment.
Three year olds are big enough to know what they want, to have ideas about how their minutes are spent and where they want to go and who they want to see, but they usually don’t get to decide. There are good reasons, of course. We can’t spend six hours at a restaurant just to watch the windsock man flapping in the parking lot outside the window. When it is time to pick her brother up from school, we have to go. Unlimited access to the cupcake icing in the fridge is not a good idea. Three year olds are big enough to want autonomy, but it is so often out of their reach, and they just don’t have the skills to take that defeat calmly or quietly yet. Honestly, there are still times when I don’t have the skills to manage that.
To help me remember this, I have decided to keep that feeling of intense frustration close at hand, right in my heart for easy access, so that I can give myself a hit of empathy when her giant feelings come spilling out of her tiny body in loud and messy ways. I hope you can find a way to give you and you three year old the same sort of gift. And never forget, you can get a bottle of rosé at Aldi for $8. That helps, too.