Friday, May 15, 2009

Three Lite

This morning was my version of a perfectly successful day thus far. I had made plans to meet a friend at the park, and keeping that in mind, set about my morning with a purposefulness that is only inspired by prior planning. Decided not to try and convince the Boy that it was still "sleepytime", which is my usual tired mama m.o.. Instead, we got up and got the show on the road. Said show meant a shower, breakfast, packing up the diaper bag and all the other things a mom's gotta do to get out the door. In retrospect, okay, I did forget the wipes, but it all worked out.

Sometimes making plans is less about being social and more about just getting out the door. I think I'm like a lot of mothers who, left to their own devices, would try to get 'just one more thing' done before leaving. We are a little like toddlers that way, easily distracted into forgetting our larger goals.

I was thinking more about the whole ages 2 and 3 thing last night. Once again, my most-hated phrase "Terrible Twos"...whoever coined this moniker was incredibly shortsighted. When I hear parents in public loudly lamenting about their toddler's newfound independent personality, I just want to lean over and whisper, "Buckle up, my friend. If you are challenged now, just you wait."

Fellow parents, Age 2 is a training ground. I'm not talking about your kids...although we seem to try to start a lot of "training" at this age. No, I'm talking about what happens with parents around the later part of the toddler stage and on into early preschool--and possibly beyond. Two is where we adults--set in our ways, thinking that our job is to parent the growing child-- have to grow up a bit. We talk a lot about growing our children up right, but how about growing ourselves into parents? Many of us were physically done growing when we had our kids, and that was a good start, but what about becoming more developed in other areas? Our children need us stretch a little, to become more flexible in how we live with them. Our ways are not necessarily our child's ways, and seeing their point of view, especially in times of stress or transition, requires us to expand our view from a key player to an observer.

I say this because I've noticed that, when I take my "self" out of the picture and try to see a situation from more of a bird's eye view, I find myself closer to finding the answers that I need to help us come to some sort of resolution that works for everyone.

But back to Two. Two is where we start to stretch and exercise those new "parenting a creature who believes they are autonomous and invincible" muscles. And it hurts, sometimes. We need our friends to rub our backs. We sometimes seek resources like counselling or classes as a balm, the way I go to my chiropractor, to help things get back into balance. Age Two conditions us for Three.

And what a time Three will be. On our good days, our now-amazingly-verbal kids will not suck us into their arguments. They will wheedle and cajole us and whine us to the nth degree to get what they want, and we will calmly say "I know you really want more cheese. I already said you can have one tomorrow. I'm all done talking about it. You can keep asking, if you want to, but I'm all done." And on our good days, we will stay all done. On our bad days, we will hate cheese and wonder why, on a planet that has more foods than we can believe, our kids only want to eat something that will make them constipated. And then we we will say something like "No, I said, no more cheese because it makes your poop hard." Then, two days later, or two weeks later, you'll be out in public and your three year old will say very calmly to some nice person, "No, no more cheese. It makes my poop hard."

Your three year old will probably also say 'poopyhead' and 'fart' and a whole cornucopia of words that will make strangers wonder if you've been raising your child in a frat house.

Three year olds are the royalty of "Why?". And just because you said so isn't really going to cut it. Even if it eventually worked for your parents, it was most likely because their faces were red with repressed anger when they said it and you knew that a spanking was just around the corner. Enter the Kinder, Gentler, More Enlightened age of raising a kid, where we know that our kids are just being conversational or they are wanting to learn. It takes a few slow deep breaths to realize that "why" is not always a challenge to our personal authority, and more because our kids are starting to become thoughtful about why they do what they do, and why they should do something that they perhaps do not want to do.

It's funny how easily affronted we become when our little ones ask the same questions our spouses do. Surely, when our partners in parenting ask us why we are doing something or another, we do not feel compelled to give a somewhat rude, authoritarian answer. That's not to say that "because I asked you to" is a bad reply, but I shy away from making it a first reply. It's more of a "well, my dear, I've given you a few reasons and now I'm really needing you to just do it". Once again, not getting sucked into the long, drawn out discussion, but keeping our cool and expecting some cooperation at this point, the "because I need you to" is a final answer.

I like being respectful with little kids. They respond to it so well.

My challenge lately with my little guy is the same challenge I have with my big guy: we often want to be doing very different things. I want to change that stanky diaper and my son wants to play air guitar on the broom. When we're out, I want him to stay with me instead of wandering off and of course he wants to explore. Finding the best ways to bridge those gaps flexes the mental muscles and forces me to find that kernel of what's important in each moment. At one point earlier today, my wandering son was buckled into his stroller so that I could finish my sandwich in relative peace. After this wholesome repast was consumed, I unclipped him and turned him loose to wander with a watchful mama close behind. Near the duckpond he struggled and didn't want to hold my hand, so we sat down on the benches and enjoyed our drinks--we were close enough to see the ducks, yet he could be more independent.

It's all about finding balance. We all get stuck at times, or topple over, or find that we've got a cramp from using all those new parenting muscles, but it does get better. Hopefully, over time, we become more limber. We see the beauty of all the facets of our child's personality--how they are so tender with a pet or babies or flowers or their imaginary friends. How they can be so wild with a desire to explore and climb and have their adventures, an evidence of the exuberance of the human spirit. For toddlers and threes, every mountain, hill and chair is there for the climbing. Even if we said no a thousand times before, the child thinks "why is it there if not for me to experience?".

My little one is sleeping still, and I have lots of my own things to do besides rattle on philosophically. But I love little kids (and big kids too) and someone has to speak for them, a little. Mama Lorax, perhaps. I'm sure someone will think I'm plain crazy, and that's fine. I have a great time with my son, and to me, that is what matters most.

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