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…