Today my three year old self-reflected for the first time in her life. Or, maybe she didn’t. But for the first time ever, she shared her self-reflection with me. That – for sure – is true.
That’s the amazing thing about having kids. You get to witness their first-evers and those first-evers last……forever? I don’t know the expiration date on that but while it lasts, it’s amazing. Captivating. Thrilling. Watching your kids accomplish new physical or mental feats is tantamount to climbing Mt. Everest, or being treated to an all-inclusive resort that boasts five-star chefs and excellent bar service, or traveling to an exotic locale and capturing video of never-before-witnessed natives in their natural habitat. It’s unparalleled.
My daughter is a spunky little feisty-muffins with a penchant for silly faces, word play, cackling laughter, a side of sass, and possibly a slight anger management problem. She gives her fuzzy blankie with the pink hearts on it a hug more readily than she’ll give me one, and after three years of holding her, when she snuggles in close to me I know well enough to be wary of getting head-butted. She runs, hops, jumps, or skips, but NEVER walks. (Unless you ask her to run, hop, jump, or skip. Then she walks as slow as a sloth.) She is a tiny-yet-mighty strong-willed mystery. She is a beautiful conundrum.
Since she has been able to speak she has bested me during every verbal exchange we’ve ever had.
“Put your pants on.”
“YOU put your pants on!!”
“Put your foot in the leg hole”
“YOU put my foot in the leg hole!!”
“YOU sit down!”
“Sit down or you’re going to go to time out.”
*she stays standing*
“Do you want a time out?”
“YOU don’t hit!!”
(I don’t hit! … but do you see what she does? Here I am defending myself to you because of her.)
Usually, when I observe my three year old, I’m in awe because she surprises me so much. She surprises me with her many clever made-up words. She surprises me with her sense of humor and her creativity. She surprises me with the power of her fury. With her wit. Her breath-taking beauty. Her stubbornness. She surprises me with her cruelty – which might just be curiosity – but either way can be brutal. Her surprises never end. When I ask her what she wants to be when she grows up she tells me she wants to be a donut.
We are not on the same wavelength – she usually doesn’t do what I expect she sh/would. She doesn’t do what I would do. She is a wild child being raised by a nerdy bookworm.
Sometimes this is infuriating. Sometimes it is the most beautiful thing in the world.
Since I can’t always predict or understand her behavior, she tests my patience. My flexibility. My coping strategies. In other words, my ability to be a good parent.
That’s all a little scary and intimidating.
Is that what “threenager” means? Scary and intimidating? Probably so.
My little threenager – who sometimes gets a bad rap for head-butting me in the jaw or screaming through clenched teeth as she punches and kicks (so hard!) – that kid of mine self-reflected today and I can’t stop thinking about it.
Here’s what happened. Every night we have our routine. Potty. Pajamas. Teeth. Books. Usually after we read a couple of books we lay together in bed and chat. Most nights, I take a few minutes and tell my children the strengths I see in them. I tell them they are hard workers and they are readers and writers and artists. I tell them they are good sharers and good sisters and they are nice and kind people. There are a multitude of variations to the list, it isn’t always exactly the same.
Tonight after I told my three-year-old she was a nice friend she said to me, “Ruby was mad at me today.” Her pal at daycare that she’s known practically from birth. They were born days apart.
“Why was Ruby mad at you?”
“Ms. Jodi was mad at me too.” she adds. Her beloved daycare teacher.
“Why were they mad at you?” I rephrase my question. I was used to her telling me she had time outs or had bad days. Not every day, but enough for it to be somewhat typical.
“I didn’t share the blocks.”
“I see.” I snuggled in closer to her and kiss the top of her head before resting my chin on it. A slightly risky move on my part.
“How did that make you feel?” I asked her.
To be honest, I don’t know what kind of reply I was expecting. Usually she’d make up a silly word and giggle, or ignore the question and make a joke about poop, or change the subject and talk about Anna, Elsa, or Olaf. I don’t think I was expecting her to actually answer, but tonight she did.
“Bad.” She looked up at me and stared me right in the eyes. She didn’t even head butt me in the jaw.
Whoa. She feels bad when she doesn’t do the right thing. When she makes others mad. This was huge to me. She released a bombshell I was not prepared for. I was blasted with an wave of pride.
Sometimes her behavior makes my eyes water, not because of the remarkably strong toddler-inflicted pain she is capable of administering, but because what she says is so refreshing to hear.
“Sometime nice people don’t act as nice as they know they should. Nice people just keep working to act nicer.” I reassured her.
I know this, after all, from decades of experience.
Maybe my three-year-old and I aren’t that different from one another, after all. I suppose that shouldn’t really surprise me.