To anyone out there thinking about having kids, my two-year-old once threw a temper tantrum because she couldn’t get rid of her shadow. Since then, Betsy has matured from an irrational, argumentative toddler into an irrational, argumentative three-year-old. You have to pick and choose your battles, unless you’re too young for kindergarten, in which case you choose to fight all of them. I’d say my parenting experience so far is a train wreck, but that implies something dramatic and exciting. In reality, it’s more like a fender-bender between two mopeds. There’s little damage but lots of embarrassment, and people can’t help but stare as they go by. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to gawk at a disaster in a while, here’s what it’s like to guide a child out of her terrible twos and into her terrible threes.
There’s no good way to raise a three-year-old. The first rule of being a parent is to act like you know what you’re doing, even when you don’t. Kids smell self-doubt like sharks smell blood. I can’t show hesitation in front of Betsy because she honestly thinks she knows everything about the world, including fashion. According to her, the latest look is wearing pink rain boots and a princess dress over pajamas. Betsy has told me more than once that she can do what she wants because she’s a big girl. It would be easier to take her seriously if she didn’t still hit her head on doorknobs. Young children are self-centered, but that’s OK. If they don’t look out for themselves, no one else will, either. There’s a reason kids have to learn how to share but know instinctively how to be selfish. The really important survival behaviors are hardwired into their brains. From a Darwinian standpoint, the fittest human offspring are also the most unpleasant. At least that’s what I tell myself when my kid gets more obnoxious by the hour.
Jewelry can be hit or miss depending out the outfit, but sunglasses and bubbles go with everything.
Betsy learned, though, that sometimes the best way to be selfish is to cooperate with others. I learned the same. When she brings me a package of candy she can’t open, I take a piece for myself for the “parent tax.” Democracy works, and it tastes delicious. She doesn’t mind my candy theft, especially when she doesn’t know about it, but under other conditions food is a constant source of anger. She once threw a fit because I didn’t let her butter both sides of her toast. The butter she did put on melted and seemed to disappear, which prompted a separate temper tantrum. So far in her life, her most consistent nemesis is heated bread. I wouldn’t mind this rivalry if she used her inside voice, but in such situations she only has two volumes: screaming and slightly louder screaming. That's why the parenting tools I use the most are Tylenol and earplugs.
If Betsy does finally learn how to outsmart the toast, it won’t be from me. When she was six months old, I found her under the table chewing on a slipper. Clearly, the most influential role models in her life are our dogs. At other times, our canine friends torment her just as much as the toast. When she eats, they circle her like little furry piranhas, waiting for her to drop food within their reach. When she was shorter, everything was within striking distance for them, and they would regularly snatch food right of her hands. That was better than when they merely licked her food before she ate it. She now stands up for herself at meal time, so the scavengers have started stealing scraps from our one-year-old instead. Betsy still isn’t done learning from the dogs. She recently figured out she can go into our backyard anytime she wants if she uses the doggie door. We might have to put a pet microchip in her so the neighbors know which house to return her to if she gets lost.
If Betsy does escape, she shouldn’t be hard to find. The only part of her bike she knows how to operate is the bell.
I don’t agree with Betsy’s logic on the doggie door, but I at least understand it. That’s not always the case with her thought process. Sometimes when we talk to each other, it’s clear we’re having two entirely different conversations. One day I asked her why Cinderella lost her slipper. Betsy replied, “Because I don’t have any pizza.” Another time, she told me, “I don’t like rain. It’s too wet.” She was in luck. The forecast for the next day called for the rain to be a lot drier. Little kids see a very different world than the rest of us, which is fine until they decide to share their perspective with strangers. Betsy once told a grocery store cashier, “Mommy LIKES wine.” My wife doesn’t LIKE wine, but she certainly had a glass that night.
Betsy can’t help but share what she sees because everything is new and exciting when you haven’t been on earth for very long. On one occasion, she breathlessly declared, “There’s snow on the macaroni!” My wife and I were considerably less enthused about the layer of mold on her leftover pasta. Betsy gets similarly worked up when I fill up my car with gas. That’s not the only kind of gas my oldest daughter finds fun. The first time she noticed her body performing a natural but pungent function, she proudly exclaimed, “My bottom is singing!” When I hear her play that song, I become the fastest man alive. I only have about 10 seconds between when my daughter realizes she needs to poop and when she actually starts pooping. Potty training a kid is pretty much just a reflex test for parents.
Raising a toddler was an adventure, but now that she’s three she’s technically a preschooler. In time, her excitement about the world will cool. Then she’ll be a jaded teenager, and I’ll be wrong about everything again. But that’s a battle for another day. For now, I need to brace myself before my next kid hits her terrible twos.
My youngest daughter, Mae, innocently picked at the cake frosting on her first birthday. Next year, she’ll attack it with the deadly fangs every child grows when they turn two.