A few months ago I don’t think you ever would have heard me say I enjoy age three. It’s been something of a bare-knuckle brawl at times – I’ve often felt like I spend all day every day locked in a battle of wills with a particularly illogical, defiant little person hellbent on breaking down every social norm known to man, and taking me down with her as she does it.
There have been many days where after I put her to bed I go back to check on her, look at her peaceful little face and think, “Sweet baby Oprah, thank god you’re finally asleep.”
In the last month or so, however, something has shifted. Three has become something I quite love. The tantrums are disappearing, the power struggles are being replaced with thoughtful conversations and I am catching glimmers of the person Olive will grow up to become.
This daughter of mine is small, but mighty. She is kind, thoughtful, stubborn, whip-smart, sometimes shy, and she grows more and more sure of herself every day.
She has a big personality, this little girl, but when she’s out of her element she shrinks. She retreats behind my legs and waits there until she feels comfortable. It’s taken me a while to realize that if I push her to get out there, join in, engage, she’ll shrink down even further. Learning how to help her through these bouts of shyness has been a lesson I have to learn again and again and again.
If I let her stay where she feels safe, whether it’s behind my legs or on the side of the pool or at the edge of the playground, she watches and she waits. I see so much of myself in this – her instinct to hang back and suss out a situation before jumping in. She wants to know what’s going on, how things work, and how people are behaving before she gets in there herself. I feel like this is one of the most important roles we have as parents – to gain a thorough understanding how your child operates best and then support them to feel safe and confident in the world.
I don’t do it for her, or push her before she’s ready. I don’t shame her for feeling nervous. I just stay there with her and we wait. She always comes into it guns blazing on her own time, and allowing her to do so has been an education.
She eats everything. Everything. Sometimes I wonder if she has taste buds. The other morning, while I panic-wrote an article on deadline, she calmly sat beside me n the living room and ate an entire head of lettuce. Bite by bite, right down to the bottom. Last week I had a container of mixed greens (kale, spinach and arugla) out to make a big salad, and she just sat there and ate half of it plain. I have no idea what I’ve done to deserve this gloriously un-picky eater, but I am eternally, completely grateful. (Getting her to sit still at the table while she eats? Now that’s a whole different story)
She still talks a mile a minute, and her stories are becoming rich and complex. The other day we were driving home and she was telling me a story from the backseat – a funny role reversal since I used to do this for her to stop her from falling asleep any time we got into the car.
She was describing a kingdom and in the process of doing so said, “There were lots of trees and hills, and that day the birds were chirping with all their might.”
The birds were chirping with all their might.
Is that not a magnificent sentence? It’ll be stuck in my brain forever. She’s three! I’ve always hoped that she grows up to love the written word as much as I do and I think she might be halfway there.
She also still enjoy fucking with me. I’m defiinitely in trouble.
One of her favourite games lately is where she plays Mummy and I play Olive. One evening we were playing Mummy/Olive, when I told her we had to pause the game for a second so that she could clean up her toys before going to bed. This is the conversation that followed:
Me: Let’s pause the game so you can clean up your toys, okay?
Olive: Yes, Olive, you need to clean up that BIG mess!
Me: *laughing* Okay, we’re going to pause the game for a second. YOU need to clean up your toys.
Olive: *nodding seriously* Yes Olive, you do. Remember if you don’t clean up your toys they get taken away.
Me: Olive, seriously.
Olive: OLIVE. Listen to me. I am your mummy. You need to clean up your mess.
Me: *staring at her blankly*
Olive: Clean it up.
Me: Olive, I’m not going to clean it up. We both know that you made this mess!
Olive: No, Olive. YOU made this mess this morning. Now clean it up. I’m NOT going to ask you again.
Me: *can’t stop laughing* Oh my god
I kind of lost it at this point. I was lying down on the couch and she’d been sitting on my stomach, and I just started laughing hysterically because this whole situation was so batshit insane. And then, THEN, she crawled up and put her hands on either side of my face and leaned in reeeeeally close. Through gritted teeth she said, “OLIVE! Clean. Them. UPPPPP!” and she fucking licked the side of my face. Chin to forehead!
I think in prison parlance this means I’m her bitch?
She dresses herself pretty much every day now – seeing the outfits she puts together is often one of the best parts of my morning. She sometimes comes out with things inside out or backwards – I’ll point it out and ask if she wants to keep it that way or fix it, and the end result is usually that I end up walking around with a kid who has a pocket right over her shoulderblade. Rock on, kid.
She’s also becoming really emotionally intelligent, which is something that I’ve consciously worked on with her because I believe that identifying what you’re feeling and why, as well as what other people might be feeling, is absolutely vital to virtually every relationship she’ll ever have with another human being. We talk about emotions a lot – how to identify them, what they feel like and how to deal with them (especially the big ones like sadness, frustration or anger). I can actually see her working on the way she expresses herself – stopping mid-shout to take a deep breath and start again in a calmer voice, apologizing for hurting someone without being asked to do so, and being able to articulate boundaries with other people (I like it when you tickle me but don’t pick me up, please). It makes me indescribably proud to see.
My struggles lately are with the sheer velocity of her existence. She has about ten times the energy I do – twenty or thirty times on day when I have a migraine or my kidney issues are slowing me down. I sometimes struggle to keep up to her, to keep as active as she does, find opportunities for her to learn and play and become independent.
I, like all parents, have days where I get into bed feeling like I’ve completely dropped the ball. Days where there was more frustration than patience, days where the chaos, mess, and constant crumbs-under-my-feet nature of parenting a toddler have driven me nuts. These are the days I try to cut myself some slack and also to remind myself that I have one child. ONE! I watch videos like this and feel like I should shut the hell up forever with any complaints. Parents of more than one,or even multiples, you have my undying respect and admiration.
I also wonder about this one child of mine. I always thought I’d have more, but these days I find myself rethinking that plan, or at least examining it further. My kidney condition seems to get worse every year, and on days where my levels are low and I do find it challenging with just this one, mostly independant child, I always find myself wondering if I could really do all this plus a newborn. I’ve really liked having time to write and work while Olive’s in preschool, I have been loving the new opportunities I’ve been embarking on recently in my career. Do I want to give that up? To go back to square one and start again? Would I regret not doing that?
No, seriously, I’m asking you. I have no goddamn idea what I’m doing with my life so please just hold my hand and tell me what to do and make all my major life decisions for me please okay thx byeee.
To summarize this summary post, Olive is pretty much the best three-and-a-half-year-old in the world and still the best thing that ever happened to me. Her chatter, her presence, her mess, her chaos – even when she’s licking me to claim me in some bizarre ownership ritual. I love it. I love her.
And the birds were chirping with all their might…
Lovely sentiments and photos. Reading this makes me wish that I could start my life all over again … but as your daughter.
If you promise to wake me up with coffee in the morning I might take you up on that 😉
Easy decision. Stick with one little person until you decide you want another one. Foolproof.
This is actually kind of a genius plan. You may be onto something!
My little sister, who I’ve part parented her whole life, from the age of three tells stories so quick and so long! To this day ( 13 next month) she’ll say can I tell you just one quick story and you know you need to put the kettle on because you’ll be sat there an hour later still listening to the ‘quick story’.
I would wait until you’re in a position to have another child personally but doesn’t mean other ways aren’t great!
Ahhh the storytellers! I love it so, so much. It gives such an insight into how their minds work!
I wish my son had a sibling, and seriously I know I am not up for it. So I make sure we have ample playdates and other social opportunities, so he gets his social skills anyway. We “borrow a brother” sometimes and have another boy over to spend the night, and develop other close relationships. And of course the earth maybe doesn’t need extra people. Anyway, nothing wrong with having only one, and you can change your mind later if the time is right!
I’ve often thought this, too. With a huge extended family she’ll have millions of cousins as her family – and I love the idea of rent a brother (or sister). If she does end up an only, I know there definitely won’t be any shortage of love or entertainment in her life 🙂
I love your posts so much. They always make me look forward to, and also dread, when my son is at that stage, he just turned one today and already has a big personality and loves to play jokes one us. The story about the toys made me laugh so hard, I had to read it outloud to my husband, who also had a good laugh. Olive sound wonderful.
Ohhhh you have so many wonderful things to look forward to (and some rage-inducing stuff, too!) Practice your zen breathing now 😉
I love your posts so much too! These kids are hilarious! And hard work. Sometimes, when my 3yo son pretends to be a dog, I have to talk to and treat him like a dog to gain any type of compliance. I smile to myself thinking that for just a few seconds he’s my bitch for once and I have the power. It doesn’t last long but I’ll take what I can get.
This comment made me laugh out loud. I love you.
Oh, I wish we lived close enough so Olive and my daughter could have playdates together!
I second James, with one addition: Since sometimes people realize they want another kid when it’s too late (my husband’s parents, for example), I would set an age limit, e.g. 38, when I intentionally sit down and rethink it over, weigh my life at that point and decide if I have room and a desire for another one. It will free you for the next few years from debating about it over and over again.
I think you are an absolutely fantastic mother and I’ve thought since I first met you how much you would thrive with more than just one child…but I also know it really is a deeply personal decision at the same time. I know what living with a life-limiting disease can do to your ability to care for not only yourself but your children and when you question whether you could do it, I’m here to tell you that you just will. You will fall in love with that new baby immediately and yes you will be tired and you will wonder if you can do it all, but in the end you will survive it…and so would Olive…and so would the new baby. Your Mama instincts would just kick in and you would kick ass at it then as you do now with O. I’ve been debating a third baby and some days I think I’m crazy and then some days it kills me that it hasn’t happened yet. I agree with the previous poster to not wait too long because sometimes when you think it will happen and it just doesn’t it can be really tough. I’m living that now and it’s been a hard road. But I’m also of the mindset that “it is what it is…and if it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen!” Best of luck to you Maddie!
Awww, thanks, Kim!
Such a wonderfully honest and beautiful post. I am mother to a one year old who’s a delight and already I can see that little strong character coming out more and more. God KNOWS how I am going to survive tantrums I think to myself on a daily basis! I will definitely be his bitch when he gets older. And her instinct to hang back in new situations….I love this. you are managing that so well, I used to do the exact same and I still do it sometimes now in new situations. She’s just checking stuff out and rightly so. People ask me literally a gazillion times a day when are you having another one when when when? And to be honest I have no idea. I thought I would be sold on another one but MAN just dealing with one at the moment is enough so I am leaving the whole thing up to fate. Lovely post and love to you and Olive xx
I always love reading your blog, and since I think you’re brilliant and respect your opinions, I was wondering if you have any recommendations for books on toddler behavior? I love what you said about talking through emotions and I try to do that but I don’t really feel like I’m that good at it. I have a friend who really likes Janet Lansbury and is really great at affirmation and validation. For whatever reason, I have a hard time articulating it in such basic speech. I have requested a couple Lansbury books through my library but there is a waiting list so now I’m curious about what other recommendations might be out there.
Hi Tina! I also really like Janet Lansbury – I follow her FB page and actually bought her book, too, but I confess I haven’t had time to read it yet.
One of the important things I learned from her though, which I do use with Olive, is the habit of just acknowledging her feelings without feeling the need to fix them (this is also a really good strategy for intracting with adults, too.) It helps to help her identify emotions and find solutions by herself rather than relying on me to do it for her.
So, if she’s having a tantrum I’d usually say (in kind of an amazed voice) “Wow, you are reeeally upset that we had to leave the store” and she’ll usually say (ahem..scream) something like “Yes! I wanted to stay and play more!” and whereas before I would have said something about why we had to leave or how she’s not behaving very well, now I just agree with her, “Yeah, I know, I’d be upset too if I had to leave somewhere before I was done playing.”
It gives her something to talk out with me, rather than something to resist and argue against. I also think it helps her feel heard, rather than just bowled over “I know you’re upset buuuut we have to go…” and I think in the beginning it helped her identify her emotions when I would point them out “You seem really angry/sad/worked up/happy” etc.
The other thing I try to do, that I learned when I was working with at-risk teens, is to reinforce when she’s doing things well. It’s soooo easy to fall into the habit of just correcting and ordering and telling all day – because toddlers need to much of it. I try to tell her what to DO, instead of what NOT to do (e.g. Sit still and put your napkin on your lap, please – instead of “stop wiggling!”) and also to notice when she is doing what she’s supposed to: when I see her succesfully take a deep breath and talk in a calm voice instead of having a tantrum, or hold back from hitting out of frustration, clean up her toys the first time she’s asked to or clear her plate without being asked…those kinds of things.
Aaaand if she acts batshit insane, I give her a do over. If she screams at me or speaks rudely or throws something instead of handing it over nicely, I’ll ask her to try it again. She can compose herself and have a second try, and see how the interaction goes so much smoother.
I hope that helps a bit! It’s definitely trial and error and seeing what works with your child… and I by no means have it figured out!
Thanks for the suggestions! I feel like I do a pretty good job of staying calm and patient I just want to help her understand as much as possible. I really like the do-over suggestion, I hadn’t thought of that before!