As the parent of a preschooler, I have started receiving homework assignments.
We’re not yet at the point where I’m sitting at the kitchen table, desperately trying to re-learn math I haven’t used in 20 years. That is – I hope – still a few years off. However, our most recent “assignments” have felt more like “chores.”
Assignment #1: Bring in a plain T-shirt for a school art project.
Ok, simple enough. Except the school newsletter said it MUST NOT be 100 percent cotton. And then on the next line, it said it MUST be 100 percent cotton. Naturally a little confused, I asked Ryan’s teacher for clarification. She also had no clue, so she asked another teacher who said it MUST be 100 percent cotton.
So like the good little involved parent that I am, I immediately ran off to Wal-Mart to purchase a $4 white cotton T-shirt, promptly ripped the tag off and wrote “RYAN” in giant block letters on the inside.
As I put the cap back on the permanent marker, my phone rang. It was Ryan’s teacher telling me she was mistaken – it MUST NOT be 100 percent cotton lest whatever they’re putting on the T-shirt fade or fall off or something.
To which I very nearly said, “Look, it doesn’t matter. Let’s be real – whatever he’s making? He’s gonna wear it once and then it’s going to the back of the closet forever.”
But like I said, I’m a good little involved parent, so I clenched my jaw shut and drove 15 minutes to the nearest Old Navy to purchase an $8 half-cotton, half-polyester blend shirt. (You pay extra for the luxurious polyester, you know. Ooh-la-la.)
Assignment #2: Teach Ryan his street address.
When Ryan’s teacher mentioned he would be learning his street address, I beamed. How cute, I thought. This is why preschool is awesome, I thought. Yay for learning!, I thought.
Then she corrected herself – I needed to teach it to him at home. And he wouldn’t earn a sticker or the super special certificate at school until he could remember – and recite to the whole class – his house number and street name.
To which I very nearly said, “I’m sorry but all my spare time is being spent driving all over town looking for a shirt that is exactly 60 percent cotton and 40 percent polyester. I couldn’t possibly fit this in.”
But hey, I’m INVOLVED, so I decided to give it a go.
It started out well. He loooooooved learning the name of his street. He memorized that the first time I mentioned it to him and grins when he shouts it out.
The house number, on the other hand, is NOT welcomed information. In fact, every time I open my mouth to say anything related to that number, he freaks.the.hell.out.
Me: Ryan, look at the big numbers on our door! This means—
Ryan: STOP TALKING TO ME ABOUT NUMBERS!
Me: It’s so cool, though, look! Oooonnnneeeee—
Ryan: STOP IT! RIGHT NOW!
I know some people take preschool very seriously. America is behind other first world countries in academics and we need to catch up and etc, etc, pressure, pressure. But we put Ryan into a three-year-old preschool program for one reason: to help him learn how to follow rules and behave in a classroom setting.
In my opinion, that is a big enough task for right now. If the stupid T-shirt falls apart in my washing machine or Ryan can’t recite his address until – gasp! – age four, we will survive.
In fact, some kids only go to preschool for one year. Most likely, Ryan will go for three years, thanks to a late September birthday and a desire on the part of his parents that he be the oldest child in his kindergarten class rather than the youngest.
That means I’ve got a two-year buffer to figure out the very best places to buy tiny T-shirts and master the very best methods for teaching my kid things he has no desire to learn.
Ryan is mastering the art of lying.
A kinder way to describe it would be fibbing, but the way he does it is so smart and calculated that I am inclined to call it by its more intentional name.
Mike and Ryan were downstairs; I was upstairs. I could hear Ryan asking his Daddy if he could watch a TV show, and I heard Mike tell him no. A few minutes later, Ryan came looking for me upstairs.
Ryan: Can I watch a show, Mommy?
Me: Did you ask Daddy if you could watch a show?
Me: What did he say?
Ryan: He said yes!!
Me: Then why did you come ask me?
Ryan: Uh … cuz I wanna watch a show …
I came to pick Ryan up from preschool. As his teacher called his name to be dismissed, he ran across the room to me.
Ryan: Mommyyyyy! I didn’t have any timeouts today!!
Ryan’s teacher: Well … that’s not true. He was tackling his friends today and had to have some timeouts.
Me: Ryan, your teacher says you did have timeouts for tackling. It’s not nice to tackle friends. We need to play gently with friends.
Ryan: Yes, but I didn’t have any timeouts! Daddy is going to be so, so, so, so happy!
Mike put a show on for Ryan to watch in the morning before preschool while I finished getting ready. Mike then left for work and Ryan’s show ended.
Ryan: Mommy, I want to watch another show!
Me: No buddy, we’re going to be leaving for school soon.
Ryan: But Daddy said I could watch a show!
Me: Yeah, and you watched it. It’s time for school now.
Ryan: Daddy said I could watch two shows.
Me: No, he didn’t.
Ryan: Yes, he did.
Me: Ryan, I know for a fact that is not true.
On one hand, I mourn the little piece of innocence that has been lost. Gone are the days when every word he spoke rang of pure, sweet honesty. He is old and wise enough to know that being honest doesn’t always get you what you want in life; instead, one must attempt to manipulate certain situations to one’s advantage. It’s a sad inevitability.
On the other hand, I applaud his ability to read a social situation, to anticipate what I want to hear and to choose his words accordingly. It’s a sign that he’s figuring out his place in the world and learning how to successfully navigate around roadblocks (i.e., me) that may get in his way.
For now, at least, it’s amusing how childishly blatant his
lies fibs are and that no amount of logical debunking softens his resolve.
I would have thought that 31 years of life experience would have a creative edge over three years of life experience.
In other words, I expected to be a whole lot better at “pretend play” than my preschooler is. At the very least, I should be on par.
I’ve already admitted that pretending is not my favorite way to play. But still, I try. After all, sucking it up and getting down on the floor to act out some sort of illogical scenario is still (slightly) better than parking him in front of the TV all day.
The thing is, he’s so much better at it than I am.
Here’s what I do: I pick up a dinosaur, knock on the door of the “house” we’ve built with Magna Tiles and announce my presence. Usually, I say something like, “Hello, is anyone in there? It’s me, Parasaurolophus!* I’ve come for the party! I brought cupcakes. May I come in, Triceratops?”
But the triceratops doesn’t hear me because apparently he’s already snuck out the back of the house and jumped onto a giant airplane, which Ryan is now flying around the living room as he yells, “OH NO! TRICERATOPS IS GONNA FALL OFF!” We needn’t worry, though, cuz all of a sudden, a shark comes soaring up from the floor to chomp on the wing of the offending airplane and wrestle it to the ground, effectively saving triceratops as I exclaim, “Wow, what an unlikely turn of events! Seriously, where can I put these cupcakes?”
Dude is creative. In his world, throw pillows are giant pancakes. Rugs are mud pits. A clothing hamper is Oscar the Grouch’s garbage can.
When you ask him to name a plastic Lego guy, he doesn’t choose something obvious like “Guy” or “Ryan” or “Daddy.” He names him Trent.**
He can’t simply pick out books to read before his nap. He must first pretend to purchase the books from the “grocery store” and then surprise me with them.
Many times throughout the day, his eyes light up as he yells something totally random like “Hey, I know! You be the octopus! I’ll be the fish! Let’s go hide!”
I’m realizing that you can’t learn to be that creative. I don’t think life experience makes one bit of difference. It’s either innately in you or it’s not. It’s not in me and I’ve always wished it were. To see it in my son is the next best thing.
No, actually, it’s better.
I expect to spend the rest of my life in awe of him. First as a silly kid who creates hilariously weird games, then as an adult who finds creative solutions to the world’s problems or creates wonderfully unique art.
In the meantime … is it just me or does “You be the Octopus; I’ll be the Fish” sound like an awesome memoir title?
*I should at least get points for knowing my dinosaurs.
**No, we don’t know a single “Trent” in real life.
In the early days, weeks and months of parenting, you are desperate to get to know that tiny human who crash-landed into your life with all sorts of wants and needs but no operating manual or language skills.
You face feeding issues and worries over weight gain. Sleep problems.
There are food allergies. Scary fevers. Ear infection after ear infection after ear infection.
Each time, you meet the challenge head-on — what choice do you have? — and you feel like a million bucks in that moment when you are hurdling over it.
Not that you have a whole lot of time to congratulate yourself because as soon as your feet hit the ground again, you see that you’re simply running full-speed at the next one.
Somehow, the next challenge always seems bigger, more complex than all the others before it. You glance behind you and see how small the others seem in comparison. You can’t figure out why they appeared so monstrous at the time. The only explanation is that you now have the benefit of experience. What once seemed so big now seems more simplified with the passage of time, with perspective.
Most of the challenges Mike and I faced as new parents were of the medical variety. They included lots of doctors of varying specialities. We easily met and surpassed our health insurance deductible two years in a row.
It was so very stressful. At times, it was even heart-breaking.
But now I have a very healthy little preschooler who hasn’t so much as sniffled in almost a year. This too shall pass, I tell my new-mom self.
For more than three years, I feel like I’ve been working off some sort of grand parenting chart filled with hundreds of little boxes that need to be checked off.
Breastfeeding issues? Check.
Four-month sleep regression? Check.
Croup? Hand-foot-and-mouth disease? Check and check.
Ear tubes? Check. (And then highlighted and checked a second time, for good measure.)
Proper nebulizer use? Check. Saline nasal rinse? Expertly checked.
Twenty-point allergy skin-prick test? Ouch, check.
Transition to the “big boy bed”? Potty training? First day of preschool? Checkity-check-check.
It’s a daunting list. And it only seems to get more daunting as we realize we’ve exited the realm of Typical Infant/Toddler Stages and Transitions.
All expectant parents are handed a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. When the baby is born, you get Happiest Baby on the Block. Then, if that worked for you, you move on to Happiest Toddler on the Block. These books seem to universally apply to nearly every baby. Maybe not every word of them rings true for every single child, but they remain pretty standard starting points.
The number of tried-and-true parenting manuals are slowly dissipating as Ryan ages beyond their words. As the issues that he faces become less standard or mainstream. Not because there’s anything wrong with him; just because he is an individual with his own temperament, his own anxieties and his own methods for dealing with his emotions.
The thing that strikes me the most, that is frankly beginning to frustrate me, is that it seems as though once a child hits the preschool age, the parental dialogue online quiets down. Google “breastfeeding vs. formula” and you will find an overwhelming amount of vibrant debate in articles, on blogs, on message boards and on health websites. Moms are weighing in, discussing unique strategies, detailing what worked for their families, providing endless resources.
Google “aggression in preschoolers” and you find some pretty bland information, a handful of somewhat obvious tips and suggestions, and noticeably less anecdotal suggestions from parents in the trenches. Sure, everyone talks about Age 3 tantrums … but if your issue goes above and beyond what’s typical, the discussion is more hushed.
I suspect there are a couple of reasons for that. Maybe by the time a child reaches that age, a second (or third!) baby has come along and the free time available to pour your heart out on the Internet about every last moment of frustration has been severely compromised. Or maybe parents just don’t want to talk about these things, to label their children in unflattering ways – even though as parents we know our children are wonderfully complex individuals and that no single issue could possibly define who they are.
No matter what I was going through as the mother of an infant, I always felt like support was easy to find. There was an endless line of people with babies who were prone to ear infections. Baby won’t sleep if he’s not in your arms? Millions of moms had been there, battled that.
Maybe that’s why the challenges seem so much smaller in hindsight.
Now it feels like Mike and I are treading out to the parenting deep end, where we are dealing with behavioral issues that other parents either assume we’re overreacting to or are judging us for or – worst of all – cause them to feel sorry for us.
I, too, struggle with how much to reveal online. I want to add to the dialogue without being unfair to my son. At the same time, I don’t think there is any shame in saying he is having a hard time dealing with his emotions. After all, he’s had a hell of a year.
He went from attending full-time daycare in Phoenix to living with my in-laws in Pennsylvania and staying home full-time to moving to a new house and starting part-time preschool. All within a five-month span. If he weren’t feeling a little confused by that, I’d think he was a freak of nature.
I wonder if the challenges of parenting get easier. I suspect they don’t. I suspect the hurdles just keep getting higher and higher as our kids age and start full-time school and deal with bullies or get wrapped up in the wrong crowd or god knows what.
Maybe then, I’ll look back on this chapter and sigh, thinking, if only I knew *then* how simple all of that was.
One of the best things I learned from this book is that sensory activities are a major benefit to Ryan.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’d never heard the term “sensory activities” before reading that book. Here is how author Mary Sheedy Kurcinka describes how these activities benefit spirited children:
“Spirited kids are very sensuous. They enjoy activities that allow them to touch, smell, taste, hear or see things. Using their senses calms them.”
It explains why Ryan gravitates toward toys like Magna-Tiles, Legos and Play-Doh. Spirited kids are both emotionally intense and exceptionally creative. They get bored playing with toys the “right” way. They want to use their senses while inventing their own scenarios.
I’ve never really focused on creating sensory activities for Ryan; but looking back, I can see that I intuitively knew these sorts of things calmed him down. Whenever he got particularly rambunctious during warmer months, my go-to move was to march him outside to fill up his water table. After every rain storm, we splashed in puddles. Once the weather became colder, we started doing mid-day bubble baths and baking LOTS cupcakes so that he could help crack the eggs, mix the batter, separate the cupcake papers and apply the sprinkles.
I knew these things calmed him down, diffused his intensity and focused his energy. I just didn’t fully understand the why part, so I wasn’t taking full advantage of it.
Now that I know the why, I am working hard to create at least one new fun sensory activity for him each day during the week. As a one-working-parent household, we’re very budget conscious, so all the activities I’ve dreamed up have involved materials we already have sitting around our house.
Here are some of our favorites so far:
Are these activities messy? Yes. Yes, they are.
But the clean-up often becomes part of the activity. If there’s one thing my kid loves more than playing with shredded paper, it’s helping to sweep it up.
Even so, I’m very much looking forward to spring, when I can bust that water table out and maybe add a few new messy outdoor sensory activities to the mix.
(In the meantime, yes, it has crossed my mind to set the water table up on my kitchen floor with a vinyl tablecloth underneath it. Depending on how long this winter weather keeps hammering us, I haven’t entirely ruled it out yet.)
One day when I’m feeling particularly dedicated, I’m going to attempt to recreate this amazing “Glow Bath” concept that my bloggy friend Stef dreamed up.
If you have kids, do you do these sorts of activities with them? If you’re a teacher, do you incorporate them into your classroom? I want any and all suggestions you have.
If you’re on Instagram, follow me here for more sensory activity suggestions.
I have a strict “No More Than Two Hours of Screen Time Per Day” rule.
In my own head.
Some days, Ryan only watches an hour of TV. On those days – which happen about once a month – I feel like an incredible mother.
Most days, I stay pretty close to the two-hour rule. An hour and a half of TV + an hour on the iPad = I’m a decent mother.
And then other days, I let him watch three shows in a row. Even though he already watched three that morning.
Once in a while … every now and then … we have a day (ahem, Tuesday) in which he is a complete jerk and I take away all screen privileges for the day cuz whatisyourproblem. But then I realize it’s only 9:40 a.m., at which point I know I will recant and let him watch a show by 3 p.m.
So maybe that strict “rule” is more like a well-intended “guideline.”
Also, jumping on the couch.
There is to be no.jumping.on.the.couch.ever.
Except on long days where I’m tired of hearing my own “firm voice” and I just want myself to shut up, but he’s still jumping. On those days? Fine, jump, whatever.
You want to throw that stuffed soccer ball? Well, we have a “No Throwing Balls in the House” rule, but really, how much damage could that one cause? As long as you know this means you can’t throw a real soccer ball in the house, go ahead.
(I’m fairly certain he doesn’t understand that difference, which is why the real soccer ball is locked up outside.)
Consistency is so important for kids. They need to have boundaries, rules. I try. I really do.
But sometimes I don’t feel like waging war over every couch jump. Sometimes, I don’t care if a ball knocks a picture frame off a table.
I know it sends mixes messages. I know it makes him push even harder against the rules because he knows he can sometimes sway me.
It’s just that there are times when all of that logic is outweighed by my overwhelming desire to simply have a peaceful day. A day in which Ryan watches loads of TV while jumping on the couch and tossing around a soccer ball as I smile and nod at him.
You know what isn’t helping?
We’ve had too many preschool snow days, too much time rambling around our small home and not nearly enough time running around outside.
I’ve decided I’ll be a more consistent mother when the weather breaks.
In the middle of an Age Three Tantrum a few days ago – the first day of our weeklong trip to Ohio – my son looked straight at me and yelled, “I don’t like you!”
Loudly, emphatically, over and over. As he thrashed around on my brother’s kitchen floor in the middle of my nieces’ birthday party.
Then he said it again yesterday.
Two different times.
I’m taking it in stride. After all, I’m forever on his case to use his words and tell me how he’s feeling. That it’s ok to be angry or frustrated or upset. So I can hardly blame him for feeling that way and then notifying me of it.
Plus, I knew it would happen eventually. Yes, I thought I had a little more time before he was old enough and smart enough to so expertly throw a dagger through my heart, but evidently I underestimated him.
The thing is, I always thought it would hurt. Like really, really hurt. I envisioned him saying something like this and me running to the bathroom to sob, broken-hearted.
In reality, it didn’t break my heart. It didn’t even make me particularly sad. Mostly, I understood how he felt. He wanted to run around like a wild animal and I said no. He wanted to be free to tear through the party, and I was forcing him to stop and take deep breaths.
So when he looked up at me from the tiled floor, tears soaking his beet-red face, and yelled, “I don’t like you!” over and over, I understood where it was coming from. I even felt sorry for him that he was so upset, bursting with such intensely negative emotion. My heart went out to him.
Then there was another teeny tiny part of me that got pissed off. Cuz oh really? You don’t like me? Why, because I’m stopping you from randomly shoving over that sweet little toddler over there? Cuz I’m not letting you destroy your cousin’s bedroom?
You don’t like me, huh? The one who is remaining calm and soothing and who is sitting with you in the middle of the floor, talking softly about how we just need to take a little break from all the stimulation while YOU thrash this way and that way like a crazed animal?
So instead of running off myself to hide and cry, I simply turned my head away from him and rolled my eyes.
To a certain degree, if your kids don’t dislike you now and then, you’re not doing it right, yeah? Plus, I figure this was a nice little warm-up to the next act: “I HATE you!”
He’s not emotional; he’s intense.
He’s not easily distracted; he’s perceptive to his environment.
He’s not wild; he’s energetic.
He’s not manipulative; he’s charismatic.
He’s not aggressive; he’s assertive.
He’s not difficult. He’s spirited.
This book … ohhhh, this lovely, lovely book.
This book is teaching me who my son is.
After a long meeting with Ryan’s three preschool teachers and preschool director — a meeting that was necessary because of Ryan’s increasingly spirited behavior in the classroom — one teacher gently recommended I read it.
I’m sure she’s had Ryan pegged as “spirited” from about Week Two of the school year. But she probably didn’t want to label him or suggest I needed to read up on my own kid. It wasn’t until I sat in the school office near tears, saying I was out of ideas. That his tantrums and his aggression were only getting worse as he got older and bigger and that nothing we tried seemed to work. That I wished I knew what to do; that I really did take it seriously and was trying to get it under control.
Only then did this teacher explain how her her middle child is much like Ryan. She told me it wasn’t a bad thing; it just meant we might need to use different approaches than you would with a non-spirited child of his age.
I searched for the book and opened up the sample on amazon. I read the first two paragraphs and started crying.
It has felt like raising Ryan was harder than average. I have always felt deep down that there was something about him that was more. But how could I explain this; how would I really know? I’ve only got one kid, so what do I have to compare him to? Everyone says Age 3 is hard, right?
I didn’t have the right words or the parenting confidence to vocalize what I truly knew. So instead, I worried I was a subpar parent. I wondered why other parents so easily controlled their kids while it felt like mine ran me ragged. I was frustrated that I found myself going through ridiculous routines time after time after time to keep him happy, while other parents laughed and said, “There’s no WAY I’d do that. I would just tell him no…”
I would think, “No, you wouldn’t. Maybe you would with your kid; but if this kid were yours, you’d play along, too.”
In case you’re curious (or you suspect your own child might be spirited), here are the characteristics:
- Intensity / Their reactions to things are best described as powerful. They seem like overreactions. You might call him emotional; you might call him dramatic. He’s the happiest kid you’ve ever met one second and displaying utter despair the next.
- Persistence / Once they lock into an idea, good luck changing their minds. You cannot ignore a spirited child and wait for him to give up. Spirited kids do not give up. Ever.
- Sensitivity / They are keenly aware of everything. Noise, smells, lights, textures. These are the kids who are throwing things out of the cart at the end of a simple grocery shopping trip because the lights and sounds of the store have overwhelmed them. They’re the kids who insist their sock isn’t on right or a tag on a shirt hurts their neck and will not go on with life until you have shifted the sock into its rightful spot or have cut the offending tag. They are sensitive to your own mood; they’re your own little household emotional barometer. When you’re stressed, they act up. When you’re happy and patient, they are all smiles.
- Perceptiveness / They notice everything. The way the sunlight plays on the wall, the truck rumbling three streets away, the fact that you moved a toy from one spot to another while they were sleeping. They might seem easily distracted (because it takes 15 minutes to get them dressed) or they might seem like they’re not listening (because you’ve asked them to get into the car seat 49 times and they’re still brushing snow off their shoes) but the truth is that they have a lot of information coming at them all at once. They’re the definition of the word observant and they’re not sure what information is the most important right now.
- Adaptability / As in, they have a really, really hard time adapting. To anything. Not fans of change, these kids. We’re not just talking big changes – like, ahem, moving across the country – we’re also talking about simple, daily transitions like ending playtime to come to the dinner table. Morning can be especially rough because they need to eat breakfast, get changed, brush teeth and get ready to go out the door for school, and the spirited kid is thinking dear god, it’s all too much!
For the most part, all spirited kids score high in every one of those categories. There are also some bonus categories that some – but not all – fit into. These are regularity (those who don’t seem to keep a schedule), energy (it’s off the charts) and “first reaction” (as in, they always say “no” first to any question, no matter what).
Ryan has always been a great sleeper and kept a pretty predictable schedule. It is our one saving grace because it means we are all rested and ready to start a new day. So “regularity” has not been an issue for us. But he definitely fits into the “energy” and “first reaction” bonus categories.
Of course, no three year old is perfect. None of them wants to share. They all have their own opinions. They all get mad, they all throw tantrums. This isn’t really the issue for us. It’s more the incessant debates, the constant, all-day-long objection to EVERYTHING.
Before I read this book, the main word I would have used to describe Ryan right now is aggressive. I have been very hesitant to write and post details that describe exactly what I mean by this. While I think blogging is at its best when it is completely honest and I think parents truly learn from each other in these types of forums, I don’t want to paint an unfair picture of my child.
Because while he may frustrate me and worry me at certain times during any given day or week, he also is the most creative, imaginative and beautifully sensitive child I have ever known.
The book has taught me this: Spirited kids are persistent, sensitive, intense, perceptive and uncomfortable with change. They are amazing. They are a joy; you just have to teach them how to manage their strong emotions, to tune in to what it important and ignore what isn’t, and to deal with all the changes life throws at them.
These qualities make them a challenge to parent. Their emotions are off the charts. They are extremely focused in when you want them to move on and they’re extremely distracted when you want them to focus in. They feel your emotions and amplify them: Get frustrated with them and you make things a million times worse for everyone. They rail against any and all change – even the suggestion that they move from an activity they like to one they love.
These are not children you can simply redirect. They know precisely what they want, and they will tell you what that is. Over and over, louder and louder, until you relent or until you kneel down to his level to have a lengthy conversation about why it’s just not possible. There is much negotiating (yay, positive!) and bribing (boo, negative!).
But the best part, the part that makes me swell with pride is this: these qualities Ryan has, the qualities that make it challenging to raise a young spirited child … these are qualities we all admire in adults.
They grow up to be leaders who envision a better world and are so determined to change it that they actually make a positive impact. They don’t talk; they do.
They are sensitive, loving partners. They are incredibly empathetic because they feel everything.
They are intensely energetic, dramatic, creative individuals.
They’re the co-workers who effortlessly spout out five innovative ideas at a meeting about a topic you’ve been studying for months.
They are so smart, so full of life.
They make us better because we feed off their energy. They reinvigorate us about life and work when we feel we’ve hit a wall because they are always striving toward the next goal, ready to tackle the next big thing.
It’s only been a couple of weeks since I read this book and already I see a difference in his behavior and in the general emotional tone in our home.
The reality is this: He is who he is. The things he feels, the way he reacts — it’s all very real to him. He is not trying to give me a hard time and he’s not trying to manipulate me. He really feels all of it.
Really, the thing that has changed the most is my reaction to him. My understanding of why he is feeling this way and why it is manifesting itself in the way that it is.
I am yelling less and listening more. I am giving him the words for what he is feeling and showing him how to reign in his reactions.
It is my job to teach him why he feels the way he feels, to learn how to control his emotions. My job is not to change him; he is amazing the way he is. So I will teach him to take deep breaths, to go for quick walks around the house, to find a quiet place to close his eyes and count to five. To listen to his body and know when he’s had enough for the day. When he’s older, to call me on the phone to vent.
He isn’t the same as Every Single Three Year Old. Actually, he’s a lot like me. The book taught me something else: I’m a spirited adult.
I have intense emotional reactions, I’m sensitive, I’m persistent and I struggle with change. The one thing I’m not – the main difference between us – is perceptive.
This is why I lose my mind when Ryan can’t stay on task for the 45 seconds it should take to get dressed. I am supremely focused on the task at hand and when I’m holding a pair of jeans for Ryan to step into and he has to hum and dance across the room and then climb onto his bed to fix a blanket that is askew over and over, I want to crawl out of my own skin.
Recognizing and understanding our differences is so important. I can tell myself that the askew blanket is making him as crazy as the way he is making me feel by not.freaking.getting.dressed.
And then I can laugh, which makes him grin back at me … and then he steps into his jeans.
Progress, not perfection. That is our goal. That is all any of us can really hope for ourselves and for our children.
If there was ever an age I wish I could bottle up, it is this one.
The conversations Ryan and I have been having lately feel strangely complete. It’s not just that he knows what I’m saying – he’s understood most of my words for a long time now. But all of a sudden he seems to understand more complex concepts that just a few weeks ago would have been too hard for him to grasp or at least too difficult to vocalize himself.
It is surreal to watch this little person develop his own sense of humor, his own empathy for the pain of others. I have been jotting notes to myself and taking tons of video of him recently. The things he says are so funny or so sweet that I’m afraid if I don’t capture it, each one will float away and be lost forever as the next cute thing comes whirling out of his mouth.
I want to share some of those notes I’ve taken. Because for as much as I will shout from the rooftops that Age Three is rough, rough, rough, it is also so very special and innocent and sweet.
Ryan: Wait, come back! Where are you going, Mommy?
Me: I have to go on the potty.*
Ryan: Oh, ooooookkkk. Just be careful, Mommy.
(Trying to plan a “Family Movie Night.”)
Ryan: Mommy … I don’t want a family movie. I want to watch my show, Paw Patrol.
Me: Oh. But I wanted us all to watch a movie together… We were going to watch A Bug’s Life!
Ryan: It’s ok, it’s ok. Maybe tomonnow.** Maybe tomonnow I could go to sleep and then we could watch a family movie, the bug movie. Maybe tomonnow.
(Arriving home as Ryan needs to use the potty.)
Ryan: I gotta get inside our house and go on the potty! I won’t go pee-pees in my pants. That would be mean.
(After I drew a flower on a piece of paper for him.)
Ryan: I’m gonna cut your flower with my scissors! Hahahaha!
Me, with a sad face: Noooooo!!
Ryan: I’m just kidding. I just really love you.
Me: You know, Nan’s birthday is coming up soon.
Ryan OH! I forgot.
(Telling Ryan that a nagging pain in my neck is getting worse.)
Ryan: I know it’s hard, Mommy. But you’re safe. I’m your friend and I will keep you safe.
(Talking about how he is going to grow to be much taller.)
R: I don’t want to be tall! I want to be a small big boy.
(After Ryan banged a door into my arm.)
Ryan: Oh, I’m sorry, Mommy! I was just playing around. Let me give you a kiss. Now DON’T TOUCH IT! It’ll heal, but you can’t touch it.
Me: Ryan, you need to take your hands out of your pockets when you’re walking down the steps. If you trip while your hands are in your pockets, you’ll fall right on your face. It will really hurt.
Ryan: But if I take my hands out of my pockets, they will get cold. So how ’bout I just be careful on the steps?
*I actually think the word “potty” instead of restroom or bathroom these days. Time for me to get out more.
**The day he finally learns how to correctly pronounce “tomorrow” is going to be the day I sob uncontrollably.
My mom-in-law’s birthday falls right after Christmas. Since I typically use up all my best ideas at Christmas, I struggled a bit with what to get her.
I settled on a bottle of wine, a gift card to the state liquor store (more wine!) and a homemade gift from Ryan.
It was received rather well and might be my go-to gift formula for her from now on.
Anyway, I’d seen something similar to this on Pinterest and set out to replicate it.
Make a Handprint Bouquet in Five Easy Steps
I like this craft because it has so many easy variations. If you have more than one kid, you can use handprints from each one. You could use several paint colors on the vase. You could make each flower a different color. I kept it simple this time so I could keep Ryan’s attention long enough to complete it (he even helped me sign it “Love, Ryan”).
Maybe someone will help him make me one for Mother’s Day. Hint-hint-hint-Mike-hint-hint-hint.
I'm Meg. An Ohio girl who relocated to Arizona after college and met a Pennsylvania boy. Married him and had a kid. After nearly a decade in the desert, we moved Back East to be closer to family and changing seasons. I'm a freelance writer and a stay-at-home mom. I'm a good baker and a mediocre cook. I am too organized and too sarcastic for my own good.
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