I had been duly warned by friends and strangers alike that “Three is the new two,” in other words, either the terrible twos aren’t quite so terrible or the threes are getting worse. But still, I developed a false sense of security as I witnessed Sophie’s occasional flip outs. They went a little something like this:
“Sophie, it’s time for dinner.”
“NO! I want to play downstairs with daddy.”
“Climb into your chair.”
“I WON’T CLIMB INTO MY CHAIR! Run away! Run away!” And she’d make a beeline for the living room couch, throw herself upon it, sob uncontrollably for about a minute, then walk back into the kitchen and say in an eerily sing song voice, “I calmed myself down, and I’m ready to eat dinner, Mommy.”
The whole thing was just weird. But manageable.
As we edge closer and closer to three (that’s the magic number), Sophie has become increasingly willful, naughty, and something of a bully.
Willful: “No! Don’t put on my shirt! I want to do it myself!” She rips off the shirt I just pulled over her head. But, instead of dressing herself, she begins to prance around the room. “I’m naked! I’m naked!” "Sophie, put your shirt on now." “No!” she retorts. “I want to read a book.” She pulls A is for Art Museum off the shelf, thrusts it towards me and orders, “Read it!” “There will be no books until you get dressed. If you don’t put your shirt on by the count of three, I’m putting it on you.” Blatantly ignoring me, she thumbs through the book. I then yank the shirt over her head. She screams and tries to pull it off as I struggle to pull it on. I am the victor. She throws herself on the floor and sobs.
Naughty: “Mommy, I’m taking my shoes off,” Sophie taunts from the backseat. "Sophie we are almost home. Please do not take your shoes off." “I’m taking them o-ff,” she replies in her evil twin sing-song voice. Since there is nothing I can do, short of pulling over onto the shoulder of the highway and risking certain death, I ignore her. A shoe goes whizzing by my head. Now, I’m pissed. “SOPHIA! YOU DO NOT THROW THINGS IN THE CAR WHILE MOMMY IS DRIVING! WE COULD GET IN AN ACCIDENT AND GET VERY HURT.” Still defiant, she takes the other shoe off, but doesn’t throw it. In my rearview mirror I see her dangling it off of her pointer finger. And smiling.
Bully: “Que fortunidad, estamos perfectos aqui….” “No Mommy! You are not allowed to sing. I LIKE this song. You cannot like this song.”
This behavior has excited my insecurities as a self-proclaimed perfectionist mom (and a psychologist). Like, shouldn’t I have a better behaved kid? I mean, shouldn’t she be absolutely perfect ALL the TIME? What am I doing wrong that she flouts my rules, mocks me, and bosses me around?
And then the pea-sized part of my brain isn’t governed by emotions and self-doubt whispers…she is doing what she is supposed to be doing.
She is developing a separate self.
She’s testing the waters.
She’s trying to see when I will break my resolve and where I stand firm.
She’d like to throw a shoe at my head.
She wants to be reassured that I am trying to keep her safe.
She wants to assert her independence from me.
She wants to see what kind of emotional impact she can have on me as an affirmation of my investment in her.
She wants to do what she wants to do.
She doesn’t want to have to listen to me warble along with Dan Zane.
She wants to be in charge for once in her life.
She wants me to reassure her that I am in charge.
Okay. Fine, but it’s freaking exhausting.