PSA: Forget the Terrible 2s. It’s 3 That’s Going to Kick Your Butt.

In two separate timelines yesterday, I had conversations about 3-year-olds.

The conclusion is pretty much the title of this post.

Look, 2 is definitely challenging.

A newborn is like a soft little marshmallow. Or a houseplant. A very needy, demanding houseplant, to be sure — I don’t know of a plant that wakes you up for water at 2 a.m. And then again at 4 a.m., 5:30 a.m., and 6 a.m.

But, still, newborns stay in one place. They really just need food, cuddles, warm clothes, and sleep. (A lot of food sometimes.) Oh, and diaper changes. Lots and lots of diaper changes.

Then they start rolling, and army crawling, and walking, and after about 12 months, you have no more peace as a parent. And then they start talking. But they are cute as the dickens, and despite the constant monitoring and mess, there is not a thing in the world like smiles, hugs, and kisses from your toddler. They are pure id and pure love.

Two years old is challenging for all the reasons the baby books tell you. Here’s a completely loving and dependent child who is suddenly discovering she is a completely different entity than you. And her priorities are different than yours. You want to clean the kitchen, and she wants to draw. You want to put shoes on her so you can go to the store, and she wants to explore under the bathroom sink. You want to go in, she wants to stay out. You want to sit down, and she wants to turn her room into a toy dump.

Sometimes, absolutely, cleaning the kitchen can go hang, and you should sit down and draw or play dress up or watch a Disney movie with your child.

But sometimes, the kitchen really needs to be cleaned.

Two is the age where naps, in your child’s opinion, become optional, and vegetables are negotiable.

Now, take 2, and add a bigger, stronger child, a more willful child, and A CHILD THAT CAN SPEAK. She knows her own mind (or at least what she wants RIGHT NOW), and she’s going to tell you about it. Oh, and eventually, you’ll be trying to potty train her, too. This child will defy you in words and actions. She will pull away, pull away, pull away, then cling like saran wrap. She will do everything in her power to prove to you that everything is in her power.

She is, sadly, wrong about that.

Age 3 required more deep breathing and patience than I thought I had. Especially the year that Kate was 3 and I was pregnant with Michael. If you are going to have more than one child, don’t wait until you have a 3-year-old. Trust me on this.

Three-year-olds don’t go out of their way to drive their parents nuts. It only seems that way. This is the age of serious boundary testing (until they are teenagers). Your 3-year-old will push and push and push, and then push some more, and keep pushing well past the point that you feel is reasonable — because he or she is not a reasonable being, she is THREE, and if you give in at any point of that pushing, even after the temper tantrum and the dried tears, your 3-year-old will realize that he or she can get away with *anything*. As @MichelleSmiles put it on Twitter yesterday: “They understand their power by 3.”

Age 3 is the reason the phrase “pick your battles” was invented. Some kids will fight you on *everything*. Some kids will only fight you on everything every other day. But rest assured, fighting will happen. Know what is important to you when you get ready to engage.

The worst part of age 3 for me both times was potty training. I tried one thing with Flora and found it incredibly frustrating. I tried a different tact with Kate, and found it incredibly frustrating. Potty encouraging (that’s more or less the tact I tried with Kate) was especially no fun because I was so nauseous all the time. I have no advice. I’m pretty sure I’m going to let Michael train himself. Or offer Flora a million dollars to do it for me.

Minor aside: 3-year-old poop? Is vile.

In conclusion: It’s time that we spread the word to new parents far and wide. Forget about the terrible 2s. The terrible 2s will seem adorable after you have survived the terrifying 3s. The best advice I can give you is two-fold: 1. Pick your battles. 2. Hold on for the ride. It’s going to be a wild and wooly year. But you and your child will survive. Age 4 is right around the corner.

Jugular

My 3-year-old is trying to kill me.

The 5 a.m wake ups.
The epic temper tantrums.
The refusal to use words and just whinge at me.
The flailing about when she is told ‘no’.
Telling me ‘no’.

(Tanget: The new rule in the house is that the girls are not allowed to say “no” to their father or me. If it’s something that is optional (i.e. a second helping of peas), they may say, “No thank you.” Last night I told Kate to stop crawling under her bed — where I knew she was going to poop in her pull-up — and to get on the potty. “No,” she said. “You’re not allowed to say no to me,” I reminded her. “No sank you,” she replied.)

Telling me no LOUDLY.
Yelling or screaming at me at all.

Oh, and the potty training thing.

Kate is done with diapers. She just doesn’t know it. She has horrible rashes from pooping four or five times in a short time (like, an hour) and needing to be cleaned up over and over again. That fifth clean up is an epic struggle akin to the gladiators fighting the lions. (Am I mixing my metaphors? Yes? Well, see point one above.)

The separation anxiety! Oh my hells. I thought children were done with separation anxiety at this age. Honestly, Kate has asked me to not go to work three out of four mornings this week alone. Which, while kind of adorable, is a little stressful when my gentle refusal to quit my job on the spot escalates to screaming and barnacle-type clinging as I am struggling to walk out the door with my mammoth purse, a packed lunch, and a traveler’s mug of hot coffee. At 7 a.m.

(The fifth morning this week she was still asleep when I got out of the house. However that was the same morning that Flora wanted me to sit with her and watch her eat her breakfast. One.Cheerio.at.a.time.)

Telling me I am a bad mommy.

That one hurts. A lot. Because, as many a parent knows, that is our deepest, darkest fear. That we are a bad mommy, and not in the cool way, but in the way that means that we are damaging our children, by time outs or yelling or supplementing with formula (or not any of those things), by staying at home or by working, by sending them to public or private school. The worst charge that can be leveled by society, at us: You are a bad mommy.

Which Kate tells me when she doesn’t get her way. When I tell her no she cannot have another piece of chocolate, or another 1/2 hour of television, or that it is time for her bath right now, or she has to sit on the potty. Or when I lose my temper and yell.

“You’re a bad mommy.” Arms crossed, lower lip pooched out.

And I know that I am not a bad mommy (although, yes, sometimes in the cool way), but oh my goodness I am tired of fighting with her.

Only 342 days until she turns 4.