All I did, in as pleasantly authoritative a voice as I could muster, was ask the 3-year-old to turn off the TV.
Why you dirty lowdown good-for-nothing fun-wrecking creepy crawly doo-doo head of a mother. How dare you bring me into the world only to ruin it for me?
I can’t say that this is a transcript of what went through her head, but as she kicked me, slapped me, grabbed my hair and screamed at a pitch that would break crystal if we were stupid enough to own any, it struck me as a pretty good approximation of what she was trying to convey. It also occurred to me that parents have been sold a bill of goods by those who claim the twos are what’s terrible.
Parents with whom I share this revelation regard me with the sort of pity reserved for the village idiot.
“It’s nothing personal,” says a good friend, the mother of two school-age children, “but I hate all 3-year-olds.”
Cruel? Not really.
Two was a beautiful age. It taught me the intense satisfaction of responding to extraordinary demands with extraordinary patience. I was kind and gentle when my child was 2, Mrs. Miniver sprung to life.
Three, friends, is turning me into Hitler in high heels.
Here is a brief list of recent comments and / or requests that have caused mucus spewing, body flopping and floor banging in our house:
* “What a sweet daughter you are.” ( No, I’m not a sweet daughter! Don’t call me that! I’m a BIG GIRL! )
* “Please stop jumping up and down on the coffee table.”
* “Darling, if you pour chocolate milk on Mommy’s computer, it will break.”
* “It’s really not OK to chuck glass ornaments off the porch onto the brick walkway.”
Her volatile moods are exacerbated by the trials of language acquisition. I am sympathetic.
Up to a point.
But sometimes it gets so bad, our home life sounds like a poorly dubbed Japanese version of an American movie.
Last week, my daughter awoke and began screaming “Shrimp mix! Shrimp mix!”
As our looks of confusion intensified, her frustration increased, until we had a meltdown on our hands.
“Honey? Baby? Sweetie Pie? Can you show us what you want? What is shrimp mix?”
Finally, she marched over to the chocolate-filled Advent calendar, pointed at it with a wounded look and suddenly, “shrimp mix” started to sound a lot like “Christmas.”
“Ah, you want the advent calendar?”
“Yes,” she explained sweetly with tear-stained cheeks, “but I can’t say dat.”
What she can and does say, as though some guru bestowed it as her own special anti-parent mantra, is this: No way, Jose. No way, Jose. No way, Jose.
Or, as she grabs my fleshy parts with a pincerlike grip: “ Hey, Mom! Pinch fight! “
The louder my screams of pain, the wider her smile.
(But seriously, preschool is a great investment.)
Most pediatricians are a passive part of the conspiracy to keep parents in the dark about the true nature of Being Three.
There are exceptions.
Dr. Harvey Karp, a Santa Monica pediatrician, likes to share one of his favorite book titles: “Your Three Year Old: Friend or Enemy?”
How come, I whine, parents don’t tell each other about how awful this age is?
“Well,” he says, kindly and helpfully, “that’s because most parents haven’t survived the twos.”
The difference between 2 and 3, he says, is that the younger children aren’t aware of their place in the world, their smallness, their powerlessness. By 3, however, they catch on. This reality check spawns anxiety, which can translate into nail biting, masturbation, nightmares and, at least in our house, cramming as many raisins as will fit into the dog’s ear.
Three-year-olds, he says, “are struggling with their own internal aggression. They’re like Tarzan putting on a suit, trying to fit in, yet inside they have all these Paleolithic emotions.”
He offers tips on handling the volcanic 3-year-old: praise, ignore or punish. Or narrate the tantrum so they know that you get it. (I tried this the other night: “OK, you are screaming now because you want candy for dinner. Now you are rushing toward me with your fists in a ball and you are hitting me really hard at crotch level. Good thing I’m not Daddy, ha ha.”)
“And if all that fails,” Karp says, “you simply have to go to the next step.”
“Putting them in the microwave.”
* Robin Abcarian’s column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Readers may write to her at the Los Angeles Times, Life & Style, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053. Send e-mail to HBZK23A@prodigy.com.
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