A tome on life with a three-year old

Paul and I were naive, we know that now. We thought that the first three years of raising our son qualified as parenting. We thought we understood the jokes, the challenges. But we were wrong. Now we know the truth: parenting does not begin until age 3. Making sure a baby is feed, clothed, and comforted is a life change, to be sure; but one does not fully understand the complete and utter madness of being a parent until the preschool years.These are difficult things to discuss. Mostly because any person who has not raised a preschooler would not understand. People without children, or with children who are not yet testing their sanity to the fullest extent possible, don’t get it. They are among the most judgmental; we know, we’ve been there. Paul and I have exchanged looks of disapproval over a whiny child and declared that our children would be different; we would be better. Every parent or future-parent feels this way. It is part of the process. If we actually knew what was in store for us when we decided to raise children, there is a good chance our species would grind to a sudden, severe halt. Having kids is the ultimate Amway scheme — those who want you to have them are the ones who’ve already got them. This is true. We want everyone we know to have kids. We want you to understand. So, at risk of painting my children as monsters, I’ll give some examples of the random and inexplicable happenings of our household.It’s 6:20 AM. Will enters our room and in the sweetest, most precious voice imaginable, announces: “Mommy! Daddy! It’s a BEAUTIFUL day!” He does this Every Morning. You wake feeling that the universe has confirmed that your child is as angel. Fast forward to 40 minutes later. You are making Will’s lunch. Will and Kate have been playing nicely all morning, but things are now a bit quiet. You look over and find that Will has taken the Chocolate Milk powder from the pantry and dumped a heap of it on his foot, smeared it all over the wall, and is encouraging his sister to, like him, use a wet finger to eat powder off of his foot. After the initial shock and extended cleaning (including cleaning both kids, changing clothes, and washing floor), you discuss WHY this happened. WHY? Answer: (in the most practical, sensible voice imaginable) “Because I like it.” 15 minutes after that, Will decides that his day is completely ruined. He has spent the last 10 minutes fetching every shoe he owns from his room. And the one pair that he has decided to wear — his ONLY OPTION — is the pair of used black dress shoes you found at a consignment sale that are now 2 sizes too small. (How he found them you have no idea. You haven’t been able to find them for weeks.) He’s tried to put them on and cannot. This absolutely and totally RUINS HIS DAY. He declares “I DON’T LIKE IT!” pounding his fist against the floor. You say, “Thank you, Will, for using your words. Let’s find a different pair of shoes.” But it falls on deaf ears. Will is loudly “using his words” to describe all the many, many things that he doesn’t like or is frustrating him. You try all the diplomatic games you’ve learned and read about. You wait for things to settle down and try to approach shoes again. No dice. Finally, you give up, swing him over your shoulder, grab whatever shoes are nearby, and throw him in the car. You drive off with him miserable, whining, and annoying. Two minutes later, you’re still trying to brush off your frustration from the morning, when he suddenly perks up and tells you a knock-knock joke, laughing as if nothing had ever happened.It’s been a wonderful afternoon. You’ve gone to the Zoo, you’ve spent quality time doing nice things. Will comes home and decides he needs to use the bathroom. After hearing the toilet flush three times in a row, you rush to the bathroom to investigate (nervous that you will find a roll of toilet paper floating up from your clogged commode.) You accompany him to the bathroom…and notice that there is urine all over the shower. Yes. For no apparent reason, earlier in the day, The Boy decided to use the shower as a toilet. For no reason. Just because. You decide to treat the family to hamburgers because Will had such a great day at school, his teachers ranting about what a helpful gentleman he has been all day. The family car pulls up to the local hamburger stand when Will declares, “I DON’T WANT HAMBURGERS!” in the sort of voice that causes parents’ necks to stiffen. You try to see if your child was temporarily possessed by a demon, waiting for the apology and confirmation: I’m so sorry Mother. I don’t know WHERE that came from! OF COURSE I’d love a hamburger. How KIND of you to think of it. You are the BEST MOTHER IN THE WHOLE WORLD. Instead, he repeats his demanding, grating sentence again. “Okay,” you say, turning the car around. “No hamburgers.” Silence. You start to drive home. One minute later, your eardrums burst as wail cry pierces the air… “I WANT HAMMMMBURRRRRGEEEERRRR!” Hamburger is, of course, off the menu for awhile. The rest of your night is a lost attempt at dinner, bath time, and bedtime over the hamburger incident. You go to bed thinking how easy, if your child would just simply _speak nicely_, it would be for you to be complete putty in their hands. It’s shower time. Will has been playing for 10 minutes while you wash up. He’s been cheerful, cute, and funny with his various shower toys. You tell him it’s his turn, you lather up your hands and start washing his hair. It’s the same routine you do every night. Only tonight, his sweet monologue cuts in an instant and he throws his body as if you’re pouring hot oil on his head. HE WANTED TO DO IT ALL HIMSELF. You discuss “using your words” appropriately and help finish up the shower. Things are back to being okay. When it’s time to get out, he fills his mouth with water and spits it on Dad when Dad opens the door to help Will out. No warning. No rhyme. No reason. It’s never happened before.On the other hand, life with a three-year old can be pretty amazing. We know he understands the basic “rules” of our lives, because he does a great job passing them on to his baby sister. “There is NO THROWING TOYS, Baby Kate! We treat our things NICELY!” The triumphs of potty training, dressing oneself, brushing teeth, and putting on shoes are exciting and rewarding. “Mommy! Daddy! Look! I did it ALL MYSELF!” Every night, when we’re done with our stories and songs, Will takes my face and kisses each cheek, each ear, and each eye. Last night, in a surprise move, he licked my eye and fell into a heap of giggles at his silly moment. He echoes our sentiments about Kate “she’s our number one girl” and delights in her growth like a proud parent. The other morning, when Kate came toddling past, Will turned to me and said, “There’s our sweet girl. In her little butterfly shoes.” Just as if he’d been the one to pick out those shoes and consider how one day, he’ll miss when she’s too old for them.