There’s a 3-year-old sitting on the stairs, sobbing uncontrollably for the umpteenth time today. I don’t know why he’s crying. He doesn’t know why he’s crying. “I can’t stop crying!” he wails at me as another wave hits. I reassure him that he will be able to stop crying soon. “Make me happy again!”, he begs, and my heart breaks as I tell him that only he can do that. I can only help him. But first he needs to let all his feelings out with the tears. He is just articulate enough to express what’s happening to him, but at a total loss as to how he can handle his emotions without my help. We sit together for an age, just hugging him over and over and reminding him to breathe. It’s impossible not to feel sorry for him, even though we’ve already had this conversation many times today. How many adults feel exactly the same way inside? Some days we could all do with a cuddle while we let it all out.
No one can ever accuse a 3-year-old of being a simple creature. They’re a crazy mix of the funniest, kindest and happiest creatures you’ll ever meet. But also the most irrational, emotional and totally unreasonable beings. They point out the beauty and fun in ordinary life that we tend to overlook. Then they explode in a furious ball of anger, frustration and upset over the most inconsequential thing. Whether good or bad, the flood of feelings is overwhelming. He JUST. CAN’T. STOP. This is but one of many observations you make on a daily basis. At 3, they are brim full of emotion which totally overrides their logic. He will flip instantly from his OCD insistence about what order we all get out of bed and dressed in the morning to a raging tornado of anger because he changed his mind about how we should walk down the stairs when we were already halfway down.
Days are a strange mix of trying to prevent potential disaster, cleaning up the inevitable destruction when I fail, consoling a hysterical child, and watching him have the time of his life running about doing his own thing. Sometimes all in the space of a few minutes. On a typical day he wakes up. I dress him and hand him over to his father if it’s at all possible before I and my heavily pregnant body crawl back into bed, supposedly free to turn my back and rest without fear of a child getting up to mischief. 5 minutes later the door bursts open and he’s back pulling things off the dresser in search of a missing toy. “If you can’t see it then it’s probably in the sitting room”, I might say. “Stop moving things or you’ll knock something down. Give me a minute to get up and I’ll help you look…” *CRASH* I awkwardly turn to find the giant expensive bottle of Gaviscon I literally just opened minutes ago on the floor. A pool of pink goo spreading everywhere. Wonderful. First clean-up job of the day. 3-year-olds are not good at foreseeing cause and effect. Even when you keep telling them what’s going to happen.
Fast forward 2 hours and I spot him in the bathroom, precariously placing one of this favourite space aliens on top of the toilet while he prepares to get some tissue for his snotty nose. “Wait! Don’t do that! If you’re not careful your toy is going to…” *SPLASH* There’s a space alien in the toilet. “Nooooooooo”, I shout as he decides to take immediate corrective action before I can reach the room. Two seconds later and he has fished the toy out, spraying toilet water all over himself and the bathroom in the process. Second clean-up job of the day. A 3-year-old inadvertently gets themselves into a bigger mess by trying to fix their own problems by themselves.
Some time later he’s in the kitchen observing meal preparations, and is of course standing on a chair trying to watch other kids out the window. I tell him a few times to sit down or he’s going to fall. I turn away to get a glass from the cupboard. *BANG* There’s a chair and a wailing child on the floor. He can be a walking disaster some days, and apparently totally deaf when it comes to self-preservation advice. A 3-year-old is utterly incapable of hearing you if something else has their attention.
A 3-year-olds timing is impeccable though. Sit down with a fresh hot cup of tea you just poured? “I need to do a poo”, he announces. Spend an hour trying to get ready and out the door? Just as you open it… “I need to do a poo”. Heading to the bathroom yourself? Just at the worst possible time you’ll hear the urgent call from downstairs. Did you sneak off for a nap? Just as you finally get your massively pregnant body settled in a reasonably comfortable position… “Maaaammmmmyyyyyyyy. Where arreeeeeeee youuuuu?”. Soon you lose count of the clean-ups you’ve performed today, whether emotional or physical.
Then by dinner time energy levels are dropping and it’s too hot, and you’re not giving him enough attention so dinner is made to the background tune of: “No dinner. I’m not having dinner. You’re not having dinner. NO ONE IS HAVING DINNER!!!!” After an epic meltdown a late dinner is served. “I’m not having dinner”, he repeats. I tell him that’s totally fine with me. His face drops a bit. “I want dinner!”, he announces. There’s a shock. I count to ten in my head and pass him a plate.
But 3-year-olds are also awesome. Some days my little sidekick is my best friend. He patiently comes running to pick things up for me. He offers to share all his toys and food. He can be surprisingly enthusiastic when he suggests going for ‘an adventure’, and I propose that it could be doing the weekly shop. He randomly showers hugs and kisses and love around with abandon, convinced that a kiss can fix almost everything. He’s easily entertained by the most mundane things resulting in periods of the day where I can actually leave him to his own devices now (assuming we’re not having an emotionally unstable day). I see his unbridled joy as he finally masters his scooter, or completes a jigsaw all by himself. His delight as he flings himself at his father coming in the door after a day at work.
Difficult as it can be to negotiate with him, he also has the most amusing perspective on things. Sometimes his logic is just too funny to argue with. I sit back and vicariously revel in his freedom of not conforming to expectations. Feeling free to follow whatever interests randomly grab his attention, all else instantly forgotten as he just lives in the moment. He can find a total fulfilment in his days that he will struggle to emulate when he grows up, just like the rest of us. It seems that the highs of his joyful and carefree days can only exist alongside the lows where he rages at his inability to make the world around him conform to his whims. Soon enough this stage will pass, until then we can enjoy the positive things.
He loves to do yoga. We would always drag out our mats and remove our shoes and socks to take part. Lately, however, he has decided that yoga must be done trouser-less. I can see where he’s coming from, but I do wonder if he’ll be so adamant when the cold winter weather returns. He happily does his yoga in his underpants for now, enjoying the sensation of being unencumbered.
He’s having a bit of a Daddy phase lately. His version of ‘bonding with Daddy’ is to state at least a couple of times a day: “We are boys. We have penises. And we eat peanut butter”. Daddy likes peanut butter, I don’t. So apparently it’s now a gender difference and we can’t seem to convince him otherwise. This is how he has decided the world works.
The purpose of his existence? “Mammy and Daddy got married. They were lonely and they decided to have a helper baby. So Mammy grew me in her tummy”. A helper baby? I take mental note to refrain from telling him he’s being very helpful quite so often before he starts repeating this to everyone he meets. Because he probably will.
You never know what he might come out with. He was alone for no more than 4 minutes with the midwife last week. “I’m really impressed that you’ve taught your son the correct words when it comes to anatomy”, she said, coming back into the room. Slight pause. “Oh”, I replied, “He’s after telling you exactly how we’re going to get the baby out, isn’t he?”. Yes. Yes, he had. Because obviously your midwife needs to be informed on the mechanics of how to do their job by a 3-year-old. That’s all fine, but I can just imagine the faces on our much more conservative in-laws when he decides to further their education in this area.
One thing is guaranteed. Life is never dull with a 3-year-old around. In a lot of ways, I’m going to miss this age, despite all the tears.