Friday, August 17, 2007
It's Not Me! (It's Three.)
Age two? Listen up: I laugh at your innocent attempts to wrest control from us. Your temper tantrums mean nothing to me. Neither the illogical demands for cookies in the middle of the night nor the desire for a trip to the playground during a thunderstorm. None of it even registers because it is a CAKE WALK.
That is, when I compare you to age three.
I don’t understand all the hype about the so-called Terrible Twos. I theorize that it’s because it is the first year that most of our little angels exert their wills, saying “no” (although Lyle was yelling “no” at me well before his first birthday) and throwing themselves on the floor. It’s new and unpleasant drama. Just when you start getting a good night’s sleep (if you’re lucky), the Tiny Usurpers of Your Former Life begin to give you a whole lot of crap.
I remember a moment that occurred about a month after Baxter’s third birthday, when I admitted to a friend during an outing at the San Francisco Zoo that I had harbored high hopes for age three. I had considered it a darling age of curiosity and conversation. And it is that, especially when you are with someone else’s three year old. But that first month of age three with my own child had been a huge disappointment. I had wanted things to get easier, not harder. That’s the honest truth.
Much of Baxter’s stint as a three-year-old was spent with a tired, barfing, pregnant mama. I had little patience for his monkeyshines. His behavior actually reduced me to tears many times because I simply did not know what to do with him. He was loud, fast, and extremely active. He was on albuterol often, accelerating him further. Baxter needed social contact every second of every day; he stood next to me as I threw up, talking to me as if nothing were happening, and became irritated that I wasn’t holding up my end of the conversation. He wanted me to lie next to him at nap time (sound familiar?) and then kicked and smacked me while I tried to get some rest. I remember one day taking a “time out” for myself because the urge to spank him was so strong, and he followed me into my bedroom (damn, why didn’t I have a lock on my door?), screaming and throwing large books at my hugely pregnant self. Yes, while Baxter was a sunny, exuberant, smart little guy – beloved by all – and I have plenty of wonderful memories of that year, he gave me a run for my money when he was three. (And the only thing worse than Baxter at age three? Baxter at age four. But we’ll save that post for next year.)
Lyle is not Baxter. In fact, his personality is quite different. And yet.
I felt it today: my almost-three-year old testing, yelling, and throwing the weight of his own very strong personality against all of my requests and expectations. That subsequent spike in my blood pressure, and yes, even the urge to spank. (I wonder if adults who weren’t spanked as children have this urge?) I gave myself a time-out and lay down on my bed for a moment. I wanted to cry. But this lasted for less than a minute, because soon his brother was crying in my place. Rule #1: If you want mama’s attention, attack your brother.
So now I know – it wasn’t all because I was pregnant and low on energy the last time. No, in fact, my second child has the capacity to bring me to quite the same level of inner despair without those raging hormones.
This is not good news.
There is one difference this time, though: I know it won’t last forever. Okay, so a possible two years of this isn’t a heartening thought (I'm going to pretend for a moment here that age 5 was easy), but at least it’s not an eternity. And this difference is critical. I know it helps, because I didn’t give up today. I finally accepted the fact that Lyle wasn’t going to nap despite his utter exhaustion, and that I was the only one who could break the pattern of dysfunction and change the trajectory of this afternoon. I walked back into the sun room after my brief lie-down and called out with feigned enthusiasm, “We’re getting outta here, boys! Now!! Shoes on! Let’s go! Lyle’s getting a haircut.” They stared at me. “And a lollipop!” They sprang into action.
We left the house. Lyle drove me crazy getting into the car, and then things gradually began to normalize. He got a much-needed haircut, I bought a big almond latte, and the boys even talked me into getting them each a book because if there’s one thing I can’t say “no” to for the kids, it’s books. By the time we got home, Lyle was even a little bit cute again.
It may feel wretched to go through it all again, but this time around I know that it’s not a character flaw in him or in me. It’s just three.