Raising Richmond: The truth about three

Whoever made up the term “Terrible Twos” is a lying liar full of lies. Three is where the drama’s at (but with good reason, I suppose).

I kept waiting for it–holding my breath, cringing in anticipation as the days moved on and our son JR settled deeper and deeper into age two.

But it didn’t happen. Despite what all the books said and all the anecdotal warnings from more seasoned parents, the Terrible Twos never really made an appearance in our house. Sure we had some potty training challenges and the occasional tantrum, but overall two was kind of a non-event.

As JR’s third birthday approached, I relaxed a bit, assuming1 we were among the blessed few spared the year of torment and teeth gnashing that supposedly is the Terrible Twos. I attributed our good fortune to JR’s strong language skills2; he didn’t need to act out because he’s never had trouble expressing his needs or frustrations. Plus it just seemed like JR was shaping up to be a pretty mellow kid–low maintenance and drama-free.

But little did we know, he was just saving it up. Despite dodging the Terrible Twos bullet, my husband and I were soon to be flattened by the force that is JR: Age Three.

I remember reading somewhere that “Three is two with intent.” A bit negative, yes, but not off base. Gone are the days of acting like a loon because that’s just what two-year-olds do. Now there’s motivation behind it; JR knows exactly what he’s doing and exactly why he’s doing it. Granted, that motivation might seem absolutely ridiculous to anyone other than him, but it’s there. And I think it shows that JR is shaking off the fog of toddlerhood and slowly becoming–dare I say it?–a real person.

I haven’t decided yet if this development is terrifying or exciting, but I do know that, at this point, it’s exhausting–for us and for him.

Now I realize every stage has its highs and lows. Newborns are impossibly sweet, but their needs are constant. Babies fill you with utter joy and palpable fear (especially when they become mobile).3 Toddlers are equal parts adorable and destructive.

But at this age–right now, with my kid–everything is just so much…more.

With three we’ve entered this new arena where JR’s ability to express himself is paired with a growing awareness of the world–a world that, for him, is suddenly filled with things that are amazing! and scary! and hilarious! and tragic! There are so many things to process and so many things to say that we’re left with a child who lives life in all caps, set in bold and underlined. He has all of these thoughts and opinions and the means to communicate them fairly effectively…his mind is just so blown he can’t help but communicate them all the time in every way possible. I often say he’s like a very tiny drunk person: lots and lots of feelings but absolutely no filter. And sometimes you have no idea what the hell he’s talking about, but you can tell it’s really, really important to him.

But despite the drama,4 it’s not all bad. While JR does tend to operate in extremes these days, you can’t ignore the fact that for every low there’s also a high. For every Hulk-out/weeping session caused by a stubborn Play-Doh lid, there’s a fit of unadulterated glee over spotting a helicopter up in the sky or finding out that we’re having pizza for dinner. When he’s upset, he’s very upset, but when he’s happy or excited or affectionate, he’s all of those things without the inhibitions that come with age.

JR is in a tiring and somewhat volatile stage, for sure, but it’s also raw and honest…and fleeting. I think parents have a relatively small window in which our children will really trust us with their emotions–the good, the bad, and what we might consider the ridiculous. It’s a precious time that needs to be taken seriously because, in my opinion, the respect you show (or don’t show) those emotions sets a tone.

I feel like we’re sitting in that window with JR right now. It’s my hope that the choices we’re making in our day-to-day interactions with him will help it stay open for a good long while.5

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  1. We all know what that does. #foreshadowing 
  2. That’s what I call it on good days. On harder days I refer to it as his “Never-Will-Shut-Itness”. 
  3. How stupid is it that small humans who’ve yet to develop any sense of self-preservation are able to move themselves from place to place? I’ll tell you: The Stupidest. 
  4. I often want to say to him, “Kid, save the drama for your mama.” But then I realize that is exactly what he’s doing. 
  5. Although I hear age four is a breeze, right?6 
  6. RIGHT? 
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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

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