"Terrible twos"? Puh-leeeeeeeeeeeeeease!
In my book, the "terrible twos" have absolutely nothing on the neck-throttling threes.
No, no, no, put down the phone! You don't need to call CPS! But, seriously, this mama needs a safe space to talk about what's been going down around here with one particular three-year-old.
The last few months with our three-year-old, Jane, have been a wild roller coaster. Within the same day (or hour), we reach the highest highs and the lowest lows. One moment, I feel like my heart is going to burst with love, and I can't catch my breath because I'm overwhelmed with love for my little sweetheart. There are so many wonderful things that I love about this stage: Jane is delightfully affectionate, and her "love language" is most definitely physical touch. She fills my tank with her sweet squeezes and kisses throughout the day. Her imagination and sense of humor helps me to take myself less seriously and look at life through her innocent eyes. Her excitement to learn about Christ and His Church, and her attempts to live her faith well encourage me to be a better person on a daily basis.
Then, there are the not-so-grace-filled moments--for her, but mostly for me. I started saying a little prayer before my feet hit the floor everyday. (I know, I know, I should be getting up before the kids and starting my day in prayer, but I'm just not there yet. I'm working on it.) Usually, my prayer before my feet hit the floor goes something like, "God, please help me to be the wife and mother you want me to be today. Blessed Mother, please give me a sprinkling of your perfect patience and tender love for my children and all those that we meet. Amen."
The day gets started, and I put forth my best effort from the get-go. I'm like this lady with the chocolate cake.
I'm lovey dovey, I do all of the little things that only moms know about that make the kids' day start out right. We sing songs as we get dressed, I make their breakfast just how they like it, and then, it begins--all of those things that make me refer to these times as the "neck-throttling threes."
What gets my blood boiling? What could my sweet, little, perfect Jane be doing that makes me want to put myself in a time-out? Well, let's see...among the usual suspects these days are: purposeful dawdling, selective hearing, blatant disobeying, hitting Walt, emotional manipulation, and the whhhhhhhhhhiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiining. Oh, the whining! It's mostly the whining!
I pull out all of the tricks in my mom tool belt to keep those blood boiling moments at bay: we plan lots of outings/play dates, maintain our routine whenever possible, eat well-balanced meals, build in individual playtime and cuddle time, shine a light on their good behavior, etc., etc. Nonetheless, I'm reaching my breaking point faster and more frequently these days, especially with Jane.
I'm convinced it all boils down to one thing: Jane shows moments of self-control, patience, and making good choices. In those moments, I know that she can know better, and sometimes she even chooses to do the right thing. She'll put her arm up to smack Walt when he hits her, and she'll stop. She'll offer Walt the last bite of her Oreo. She'll do something I told her not to and say a sincere "I'm sorry" before I have a chance to process what happened. She's learning. She gets it--sometimes. These moments make me fall into the trap of thinking that she is capable of making those good choices on a regular basis, and they make the moments when she makes the bad choices more frustrating.
Logically, I know she's just doing her job as a three-year-old. As my pediatrician says, she is "developmentally appropriate." Jane is doing all of the things a three-year-old is supposed to be doing: testing limits, asserting her independence, and questioning everything. Knowing this doesn't make the day-to-day any less infuriating. At 3, Jane isn't supposed to do everything I ask immediately, maintain perfect emotional equilibrium, or exhibit patience and understanding when things don't go her way. Come to think of it, I don't do all of those things on a regular basis...
Nonetheless, as a mama, I know I need to rise above the neck-throttling threes and get some strategies for the blood-boiling moments. I have a fiery temper that I've struggled with since childhood. When I'm at my wit's end and we're having one of those days (and it's only 9 a.m.), I can go from 0 to 60 in seconds. After pulling out all of the stops and having my patience tested to no end, I feel invisible unless I'm yelling.
Yesterday morning, I was still bummed that Philip had to work unexpectedly, but I decided to make it a productive morning and go to the grocery store. Getting out the door with a 3- and a 2-year-old is a battle anyway, but the kids really battled getting out the door for a solid half an hour. They didn't want to have anything to do with getting ready--brushing teeth, combing hair, putting on shoes, zipping jackets, getting buckled in the car seats, etc., etc. Oh, and the whhhhhhhhhhhiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiining! (Why does the whining get to me so much, anyway?) Anyway, by the time I had gotten them restrained and myself into the driver's seat, I had had it. I turned around, looked at the kids, and yelled, "STOP! STOP!!! STOP!!!!!! No more whining! Mommy needs you to be good listeners and use nice voices." (Yes, the irony isn't lost on me that I was asking my toddlers to use nice voices as I was yelling at them...) Even as the words were coming out of my mouth, I heard the good angel on my shoulder saying, "Ohhhhhhhh, Catherine. You shouldn't speak to your children like that." Yet, I still did it. Then, I looked forward, said a little "I'm sorry for being such a jerk" prayer in my head, and turned back to the kids. "Mommy is sorry for yelling. Mommy shouldn't yell at you. I love you very much. Can you please use nice voices and be good listeners?"
Jane responded in her sweetest voice possible, "Yes, Mommy." Ugh, if yelling itself didn't make me feel like a jerk, hearing her little voice and seeing her smile made it even worse. She has a way of doing that. Jane will throw me a one-two punch of the worst of the worst toddler behavior, I'll want to yell like the crazy mom that I can be (and sometimes I do), then she'll take my breath away with her sweetness.
I asked Philip for a little quiet time tonight after dinner because I needed a break from the kids. Minutes later, the doorknob to our bedroom jangled and Jane walked in. I was a little bummed that my quiet time was being interrupted so quickly, but I mustered up my sweetest voice for her. "Hi, honey. What are you doing?" Then, she hit me with the sweetness. "I'm just loving you. Can I come and sit with you?" She ran and grabbed her little LeapFrog computer and sat in bed next to me while I wrote most of this post.
So, I'm a work in progress. I'm doing the best I can as a mom. I'm working on the yelling. I'm trying to be a good example for the kids. I'll keep working on the waking up before the kids for prayer time. I'll keep messing up, and I'll keep asking the kids, Philip, and God for forgiveness on a daily basis. I'll never stop trying.
God called me to this vocation because He knew it would be the most sanctifying for me. He knew I needed to prune a lot within myself. Philip and the kids uniquely help me to become a better person on a daily basis. The process isn't always pretty, and some days what I see in the mirror is downright terrifying, but that's what purgation is all about. Marriage is the vocation for me because it purifies exactly the areas that need it most. Here's to tomorrow's tests!