…but when she was bad, she was horrid.
Maybe horrid is a little strong. Nonetheless, sometimes Matt and I look at each other at the end of the day and admit, “This kid is driving us crazy.” Mary can be willful, stubborn, impish, and infuriatingly irrational. Something that was fine yesterday might be a no-go today. We might discover her doing something ridiculously against the rules, like licking the carpet or standing on her headboard, just because the idea of the forbidden intrigues her. She scowls, she glares, she comes up with her own gestures of discontent (current favorite: index finger curled slightly, pirate style). We get into power struggles over ev.ery.thing. from trying a bite of dinner to putting on her clothes to standing still in church. She goes from zero to screaming in frustration; she has no fuse. She accepts consequences and time-outs without batting an eye, then goes right back to whining and screaming. Sometimes I have to work very, very hard to keep my temper in check with her, and sometimes I don’t succeed. Three years old is no joke.
Sometimes she is an angel of a child. She has a tremendously powerful imagination and she can exist in her own world, amusing herself with her made-up stories and songs. She was the flower girl in her Aunt Dill’s wedding a few weeks back. After a long day of being told where to stand and what to do, wearing a fancy dress, and smiling on command for photos, I thought she might lose it at the reception. But she happily sat at the head table and played with three little duck toys for the entire dinner and toasting process. Some of Dill’s relatives came up to me later and confessed that their table had spent the evening watching Mary, amazed that she was still quiet and calm with just those three small toys.
She often gets anxious when I ask her to do something that makes her uncomfortable (latest nemesis: public toilets). Last week a new swim instructor, a man she’d never seen before, told her to jump off the side of the pool into his arms. To put it in context: Mary flips her lid when I try to rinse off her hair in the bath because there’s a chance that some water might splash on her face. She had never jumped into a pool before, but she did it right away, missing his arms completely and plunging totally underwater. She came up sputtering and scared, but after calming down for a couple minutes, she jumped in to him again. I watched from across the pool, jaw hanging open.
At her heart, Mary is a people pleaser, and if she thinks that she can make a grown up happy, she’ll do whatever it takes, even jumping into a pool. But maybe she feels safe enough with me that she can protest when I ask her to do something uncomfortable? Maybe she knows I love her no matter what? The alternative is she’s screwing with me in her diabolical three-nager way, so let’s go with love.
She can also be wonderful even without an adoring public. When the stars align and she’s gotten enough food, sleep, and attention from Mom and Dad, she can be so much fun, enthusiastically spinning from one activity to the next, amazed by the world. Those times just seem to be less frequent than when she was younger. It’s like walking around with a time bomb- which Mary will we get today? This hour? The calm one or the crazy one? I’ve backed out of plans more than once for fear of dealing with misbehavior in public, but then we all get squirrelly stuck inside the house and that doesn’t help either. No one ever said parenting would be easy, I suppose.
Let’s end on a humorous note. Maryisms lately:
- “I can’t eat that, I’m French.”
- While eating a carrot: “I’m a bat wearing a bunny costume!”
- “I have ashes on my eyes!!!” (she meant eyelashes)
- “I’m going to sing a camping out birthday song for Jesus!”
I don’t even know, you guys. I don’t even know.