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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Is 3 is the New 2?

Now 3, Jane still melts down when she doesn't get her way.
Forty may be the new 30, but lately I’ve been more concerned with the fact that—at least in our house—3 seems to be the new 2.

Our youngest child just celebrated her third birthday and transformed almost overnight from an often challenging but sometimes amusing and winsome youngster into an unabashed cranky pants. Jane orders us around and then melts down when we don’t comply. She wasn’t exactly an easy 2-year-old. But since Jane turned 3, her volume—her bossiness, her whining—has elevated several notches.

I vaguely remember suffering the same realization when our twins, now 6, finally reached their third year. Their fighting and demands seemed to escalate rather than diminish. I recall wondering why people called it the “Terrible 2s” instead of the “Terrible 2s and 3s.”

With Jane, our third and last child, however, I was hoping that this time would be different. Instead, I’ve found myself repeatedly hollering, over the past month since her birthday, “If you keep acting like that, I’ll send you to your room”—and then escorting Jane to her chamber a minute or two later.

At a neighbor’s party the other day, Jane had a tantrum after trying, unsuccessfully, to shove herself through a screen door.
“How old is she?” another mother asked.
“She just turned 3.”
“My child was an angel until she turned 3,” the woman said, “and then all hell broke loose.”

Unfortunately, I can relate—at least to the latter part.

Jane has started waking up again between 5 and 6 a.m., which would be almost tolerable if she were polite about it. Instead, she is a beast.

“I want a lollipop,” Jane demanded the other morning, after jarring me from my sleep.
“We don’t eat lollipops before breakfast.”
“I want it after breakfast!” she rejoined.

When I recently missed a bit of her jabber and politely inquired what she had been saying, Jane stomped her foot at me and said, “I was talking to myself!”
“Don’t be rude.”
“I’m not!” she retorted.

And lately, if Jane doesn’t get her way, she utters a frightful noise, a cross between a screech and a groan that I can best characterize as “aaawwuumph!”
“Bring down your camper van,” Jane commands her older sister.
“I don’t want to right now.”
“Aaawwuumph!” Jane complains. “I’m tired of waiting!”

What makes matters worse is that, since turning 3, Jane has entered the no-nap-no-man’s-land, and by 4 p.m. some days, when she hasn’t had a rest, she becomes practically intolerable. For instance, on a walk the other afternoon when Jane refused to nap, she turned to me and asked, “Mommy, what’s that noise?”
“They’re cicadas, like crickets.”
“They’re too loud!” Jane lamented. “They’re annoying me!”

I know the feeling.

“You’re awfully squawky lately,” Jane’s older brother recently observed.
“I am not!” Jane squawked right back.

And sometimes, she’s downright frightful. When my 6-year-old twins had friends over the other day, for instance, one of them dared try on a tiara my mother had given Jane for her birthday. “She’s wearing my crown!” Jane cried so loudly, she actually intimidated the older girl into taking it off.

So I decided to do some prepping on our way to Jane’s 3-year checkup, resorting to bribery in an attempt to avoid public mortification.
“If you behave well and answer the doctor’s questions, I’ll buy you a treat.”
But Jane wanted to know why she had to see the pediatrician in the first place.
“You have to go once a year,” I explained, “just to tell her how you are doing.”
“Like not fighting?” Jane offered.
“Well, I think we need to keep working on that.”

Of course, Jane hid her true colors, acting the part of a perfect angel as the doctor questioned her, and I perused the “Advice for Age Three Years” sheet the nurse had handed me. “Three-year-olds can be bossy,” it read.
‘No kidding,’ I thought.
“They may fuss and fret and even have a major tantrum when they are told ‘no,’ but they will survive and be happier with limits.”
‘But will I survive?’ I wondered.

So I chose what I felt was an appropriate break in the conversation about Jane’s dietary and toilet habits to offer my new theory.
“I think 3 is the new 2,” I ventured, feeling I might be uttering some kind of blasphemy.
“That’s not exactly a compliment,” the pediatrician chuckled, “but I’m sure you'll embrace the challenge.”

I guess I have no choice.