Turning Four: Looking Back on Parenting a Three-Year-Old

Turning Four: Looking Back on Parenting a Three-Year-Old; From the emotional outbursts of threenagers to the joys of independence, three is a tough but awesome age for kids and parents alike. (Photo: Boy riding away on a balance bike on a sidewalk.)

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.

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Five Surprising Ways I’m My Father’s Daughter

5 Surprising Ways in Which I'm My Father's Daughter; Photo: Man in baseball cap holding a sharp stone in front of a river

“You look just like your mom.” Those are always the first words out of anyone’s mouth who knows my mom and is meeting me for the first time. Admittedly, my mom and I have many things in common. Namely, a talkative nature and knack for strong opinions. But lately, I’ve been noticing more and more the ways that I’m like my dad.

On first glance, my dad and I don’t seem to have much in common. My good high school friend once half-joked that he had never heard my dad talk. That was obviously false, but had enough truth to it to be funny.

But for all that our personalities are different, his influence has definitely rubbed off on me.

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My Little Explorer

My Little Explorer / We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So; photo of two boys climbing a playground rock wall

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.

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Becoming a Family Cyclist

Text: "Becoming a Family Cyclist / We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So" Photo: Bicyclists standing in a group with their bicyclists in a park

Ants. So many ants. They were crawling all over the seat, fabric and metal bars of my bike trailer. I poked at the swarm with a leaf, but they just scattered. I sprayed them with Lysol, but that didn’t seem to faze them. Finally, after hearing many proclaimations of “Ew!”, Chris stepped in. After spraying the whole trailer with the hose and shaking it upside down, he declared that I would not be bringing Little Bird on his first ever bike ride that day.

Before I became a mother, I had dealt with a lot of problems on the bike, from flat tires to thigh-grinding hills. But never ant infestations. This was only one of the many times I’ve had to adapt one of my major passions after becoming a parent.

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Learning to Be Away from My Children

Text: "Learning to Be Away from My Children / We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So" Photo: Airplane wing overlapping with a sunset.

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.

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The Death Conversation with a Three-Year-Old

The Death Conversation.png

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.

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What You Don’t See

“So what time do you get home?” I asked. I desperately wanted to know how my friends had managed to solve the conundrum of living in the suburbs with young kids – how to spend time with them while also getting them to bed at a reasonable hour. They had just told me that they got their one-year-old to bed by 7:30 pm, a feat that has never happened at our house.

“6:30,” my friend replied, shrugging. “We grab her something out of the fridge and do the bedtime routine.”

I blinked. They didn’t have dinner together. Or much time together at all on weekdays. I literally had not considered that possibility.

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On Little Bird’s First Birthday

Photo: Baby lying next to a swaddled teddy bear; Text: "On Little Bird's First Birthday / We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So"

“Ah ah, come back here!” I yelp as my baby once again arches his back, flips over and stands up on his changing table. Somewhere between wrestling and tickling him, I finally manage to get a fresh diaper on. But that’s Little Bird at one year old – high energy and big emotions.

When he was first born, he was a touch over five pounds. He was just bigger than his teddy bear, swaddled in thin blankets. Still convinced that he belonged in the womb, he dozed in the pack-and-play even when his brother was sing-yelling next to him. At first, it seemed like he was going to be adorably sleepy and quiet.

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Storytime with Hop and Bun, the Imaginary Bunnies

Photo: Stuffed white rabbit sitting on a bookshelf. Text:

This is actually Snowball, our “pet bunny.” But good luck getting a photo of an imaginary friend.

“Tell me a Hop and Bun story,” Sprout says, his pants around his ankles as he’s sitting on the toilet. Perched on the side of the bathtub, I look off into the distance, as if I can pluck an idea from the mirror above the sink. “Hmmmm, well,” I stall, wracking my brain. “Once upon a time, there were two bunnies, named Hop and Bun. They were best friends. One day…”

Eventually, I always come up with something. The plots have ranged from the hapless bunnies getting lost on the subway to saving up money and buying a scooter.

While I love telling Sprout stories – despite the odd circumstances – that’s not my favorite part of this routine. No – it’s the fact that Hop and Bun are utterly from Sprout’s imagination. I played no part in their creation. They aren’t drawn from a book or TV show. One day, Sprout just declared that he was a bunny named Hop and Bun was his friend.

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