There’s no such thing as the terrible twos. From every single parent I’ve consulted in my small, unscientific survey, it’s not two year olds that wreak havoc with our home, our patience and our very sanity. It’s the three-year old. More self-sufficient, more vocal and more demanding, the three-year old is indeed the reason some animals kill their young. No. Really.
Cole stays up til 7:30 to watch Dora the Explorer. I’m cool with this. We snuggle. He eats some apples, spits the peel into my hand. Nibbles watermelon. We go to bed and it’s admittedly a long process, but one I really don’t mind. Up the stairs, me with Percy the train. Cole with the repeating, mechanical parrot. We show the parrot how a big boy brushes his teeth. Cole’s proud. He helps parrot and Percy brush their beak and face, respectively. We race to the bedroom. The kid takes four and a half minutes to pick out two books. I sit and wait. Mostly patiently. We read. We laugh. He helps me read. As we slowly make our way through Gossie and Gertie, I change the words. “Gossie and Gertie are friends. Best friends. Gossie marches to the BOOGER.”
“No mommy! The barn!” It’s fun.
Freak out begins during the last two pages of the second book. He knows. It’s nearly time to turn on the CD, put his head down and say goodnight. He grows desperate. He’s tired, but doesn’t want to sleep. I get it. He begs for another book before I close the second. I oblige because, hey, it’s reading. Really. I know he stalling. But it’s quiet togetherness that doesn’t happen often these days. So yeah, I let him take a minute to carefully pick the third, the longest book he can find. And so we go through nursery rhymes together. Singing some. Reciting others. As the book closes, he asks for water.
I turn off the bedside Humpty Dumpty lamp and the setting sun peeks through the blinds. He sits up and asks again.
What am I supposed to do? Say no? To water? Nope. I mean, of course, I don’t think he’s thirsty. But to deny him, on the slight (really slight) chance he actually is? That’s like …. Horrible adult behavior that I abhor. I give the kid the benefit of the doubt and go into the bathroom.
Pour some from the tap into his bedtime cup.
“I don’t want that water.” Cole scowls at me. “I want juice.”
I walk toward his bed with the plastic cup.
“Well, you can’t have juice before bed.” I hold the cup out to him. “Water or nothing.”
OK, sure. Everyone would prefer juice to water. Except hippie weirdos. Yes, I’d rather have a swig of Diet Coke before sleep — but I don’t. Because I shouldn’t. It’s the principle. Did you know that parents in the UK (ok, this was the 1960s, but I know it still happens, there and here) give their young ‘uns a bottle or sippy o’ juice or milk in the bed? Madness, I tell ya. Mad.
“Cole. We don’t have juice before bed.”
“It got sugar?” (Yeah, he says this. Thanks, can’t-afford-you preschool that brings a dentist in every month.)
“Yes. It has sugar in it. You can only have water before you sleep.”
“It got germs?”
“Cole. Do you want this water?”
He swipes at the cup. Nothing pisses me off like a swipe to a good-intentioned gesture. I’m ready for this fight.
“I don’t want that water.” He pauses, thinks. “I want different water.”
“Nope.” I hold the cup out. “If you’re thirsty, drink this. This is it.”
“I want downstairs water.”
“No. This water or nothing.”
And then it comes. The scream. Unless you’re a parent and have seen this, your sweet flesh and blood in a rage directed dead at you, you can’t understand how it hurts. And how it makes you want to grab that sweet flesh and blood and yell right back. The Kaiser stares right in my eyes and lets it fly. He sits up, clinches his fists and yells. A piercing, terrible, long yelp. Rather like I’ve smacked him in the ear (which really, I’ve had to hold myself back from doing, in response to this horrid and increasingly normal shrieking) or like if I’d just told him that Brobee’s dead. I just stare at him. Another I-really-don’t-know-what-to-say-or-how-to-handle-this parenting moment. Seconds pass. And I just stare. Mouth agape. I’ve heard it before, and it never ceases to elicit the same shocked response.
“Dude.” I shake my head. “Duuuuude.”
He lays down. I continue to look at him like he’s sprouted horns and a cloven foot, because sweet Buddha, what the what?
“I talked at you, mommy.”
“Yeah, you certainly did.” He looks at me, and I’m pretty sure he scared himself. Good. I pull the covers up.
“I yelled at you.” He kicks the covers down.
“You did. That’s not nice and it really hurts my feelings.”
I kiss his forehead. He settles in and I snuggle him up. Kiss him again. “I always love you, even when you’re mad,” I whisper into his ear. And I do.
“I love you, too, Mommy.” He kisses me quickly on the cheek and turns onto his side.
Ok, sounds sweet. But did end rather sweetly. It normally doesn’t. And it’s is becoming the norm. Whining. Demanding. Harassing me until I want to tear my hair out, in massive clumps, and stuff them in his ever-open mouth. It never ends. The husbands says alls I need to do is tell him to stop whining. I’ve tried that.
“Say it one more time, Cole, and I’m putting you in timeout.”
“Ask me again and I’m gonna pop your bottom.”
“Ask it. Go ahead. Ask.” (This is followed by a mean look).
Nothing works. And the thing is – I don’t give in to his demands. Really. Never. If I say no, I mean no. Sometimes, even, I say no, and realize that I shouldn’t have. That something doesn’t matter. But once you’ve said it, you’d damn better stick to it, so I do. Right? I thought that the whiners were a products of parents that were all, “No. No. No. No. No. OK.”