The band-aid was the first sign of trouble.
My parents, my in-laws, Chris, and I were all rushing around, trying to set up Sprout’s fourth birthday party. A few days earlier, Sprout had badly cut his ring finger and now the band-aid was peeling off. Like all children, Sprout takes his band-aids Very Seriously. While we have a plentiful supply of Thomas the Train band-aids at home, my current stash was limited to Star Wars. “Look, I have Star Wars band-aids!” I exclaimed, trying to work up an adequate level of enthusiasm. “I don’t want Star Wars band-aids! I want Thomas!” he cried. After much whining, including an exclamation of “I don’t want to watch Star Wars!,” my mom resolved the situation. She offered to “make” a dinosaur band-aid from a plain bandage and dinosaur stamp.
This dramatic arc was solid foreshadowing for the rest of his birthday party.
“Where are you going?” I yelled at Sprout across the playground as he zipped around on his balance bike. “I told you not go back there!” My words echoed off of the wall of the building that my son just disappeared behind. My face dropped into a frown as I waited for him to emerge from the other side. When he came around, I walked up to him and said, “You are not using your bike for the rest of the day.” Of course, he broke down wailing.
Another day, Sprout wheeled his bike down the sidewalk near our house, feet flying. But this time, he dragged his sneakers along the pavement when I yelled, “Stop!” Coming to a halt, he waited for Little Bird and I to catch up, despite his fidgeting hands showing his desire to go, go, go! As soon as we reached him, he was off again, speeding ahead but listening for my call.
As I decided whether or not to buy a pedal bike for his fourth birthday, I thought about what side I should weigh more heavily. Was he responsible enough for this present or not?
No one wants failure. Most of the time, it kind of sucks. But it is a fact of life. And one that kids need to deal with on a regular basis. They can – and will – learn about it on their own. But they can also learn about it from us as their parents.
I recently wrote about how I’m using my own failures to teach my kids how to deal with theirs at my first post for Her View from Home, Teaching My Kids Grit by Modeling How to Fail Well.
Here’s the first paragraph:
Riding to my first community bike ride of the season, I rejoiced. The blue skies and perfect temperature surely meant plenty of families would show up. But as I waited at the community center with my young son, my hopes faded. A biker riding up the parking lot piqued my attention before I realized it was one of the other volunteers. Not a single family showed up to my family bike ride. Instead, my kid, my two fellow volunteers and I pedaled over to the ice cream shop anyway.
Read the rest at Her View from Home!
A few Saturdays ago, Sprout accompanied me on my community bike ride, acting as an enthusiastic second and playing readily with other kids on the playground. The next day, he broke down screaming three separate times when we were celebrating an early Fathers’ Day brunch with my parents and in-laws. I actually picked him up and left the restaurant so he could calm down, something I almost never have to do. This past year with a three-year-old has been full of contradictions: happy/sad, stable/falling apart, independent/clingy. With him on the cusp between being a toddler and school-aged kid, we felt the full-brunt of the threenager phase. With his birthday just past, I’m looking back at the ups and downs of living with a three-year-old.
Sitting at the top of our concrete stairs, Little Bird smiles down at me. Even though he doesn’t talk yet, his big grin says, “Look at me, Mama! Isn’t this awesome?” Used to my daredevil of a baby, I shake my head, smile back and hustle up the stairs before he gets the idea to climb down on his own.
I suppose it’s appropriate that one of my kids is a risk-taker. After all, exploration and adventure are some of my big values, in whatever form they come. My family stories overflow with risk, from biking around the world to immigrating to America. And I myself was a kid who never hesitated to put anything in my mouth and embraced the wildness of the outdoors. But all of that doesn’t make it any easier on my mental health.
Bing! The chime on my phone rings, indicating a new message. It’s a video from Chris, reaching across the country to me while I’m on a work trip in New Mexico. It starts focusing on Sprout, being a lump on the couch with his red velour blanket over his head. The camera then swerves to Little Bird, who is walking towards it. Walking! When the hell did that happen? At that moment, I realized just how long a week away is when you have young children.
I found out that I couldn’t attend my grandmother’s funeral in my ob-gyn’s office. After my doctor observed that I was several centimeters dilated, I asked, “So I shouldn’t go to New Jersey on Monday then?” Looking up from between my legs, she said, “No, You probably shouldn’t travel out of state.” Between the fact that I missed the funeral and the baby was born that afternoon meant that I never told my older son about my grandmother’s death. He had only met her once, briefly, so it would have met little to him anyway. But it made me realize how urgent it was to talk about the subject with him.
In particular, my other grandmother is getting up in years. Sprout has met “Grammy” several times and remembers her. While her passing may be years away, there’s no way to know. Needless to say, I didn’t want finding out about her death to be Sprout’s introduction to the topic.
But I had no idea where to start.
The room is dark and my eyelids flutter. My baby, who is in my arms, squirms and calls out, shrieking, then whimpering. I startle awake and gaze down at him, taking in his round cheeks and elfin nose. His eyes are closed, but out of exhaustion, not relaxation. Cries of pain and discomfort slip from his mouth, no matter how much I hug or rock him. His teeth are coming in and even medicine isn’t quite enough.
I am not the mom just standing behind the kid thinking, “Oh that’s rather mean. Lalalala.”
There are times I simply don’t like my three-year-old.
Fellow parents of three-year-olds may be gasping in mock surprise.
However, I really thought I could avoid this feeling. Child psychologists say that toddlers can tap into some of our deepest insecurities. Or as Chris jauntily sang to me the other day, “Toddlers are emotionally abusive.”
The bride walked down the aisle, a flowered headband in her short, black hair. As everyone watched expectantly, I shhhhed my yammering three-year-old son. While the readers recited statements from the couple’s grandmothers, I struggled to hold him on my lap. As a member of the wedding party read a passage by astronomer Carl Sagan, I finally hauled my kid down the aisle. The two of us spent the rest of my friends’ wedding in the back of the building. I alternated between trying to catch bits of the ceremony, grabbing him as he sprinted out the door, and whispering to him about how disappointed I was. It was a pretty low moment in my parenting career.
It wasn’t supposed to go like this.