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The Terrible Twos were child's play compared to the Torturous Threes

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It had all the elements of a recurring nightmare, like the one where I'm starring in a play and realize only as the curtain opens that I don't know any of my lines. In this scenario, though, I'm standing in the hallway of my daughter's school, watching my young son sob, face down, on the sneaker-scuffed floor.

"Come on, Bruiser," I urge, balancing our cafeteria lunches on either arm. "Get up." A line of schoolchildren files gingerly around him and he kicks his legs a few times.

"No," he says, his nose firmly pressed to the floor. "I NOT!"

"Get up!" I say more forcefully, feeling the stares of the mothers lining either side of the hall. I prod him with one toe.

"I NOT!" he repeats. "I NOTTTTTTT!"

I'd like to say that at that point, I woke up in a cold sweat. But as every parent reading this horror story probably knows, this was no nightmare. This was the reality of my daily life. I looked from Bruiser to one of my mom friends, who was watching quietly from across the hall. Her own boys stood dutifully at her side.

"The terrible twos," I laughed weakly, shaking my head. "He'll be 3 in a month and I can't wait."

She shook her head regretfully. "Three's worse," she said. A mom beside her nodded vehemently.

"It is," she said. "Three is much, much worse."

Today, two months later, I can scientifically confirm that what those moms told me was true. If the twos were Terrible, the threes are just plain Torturous.

Don't get me wrong. When my son is good, he is very, very good. He's a first-rate cuddler, a charming comedian, a bubbling font of joy and laughter.

But when he's bad? Well, I would've taken his terrible twos any day over this. He has the same penchant for wild tantrums that he had a year ago, but now he's bigger. He's smarter. He's Bruiser 3.0.

"Bruiser, you know you can only color at the kitchen table," I told him yesterday as he came running into the den waving a marker in the air. "What are you doing with that?"

Quickly, he stuffed the marker down his shirt. "Is all gone," he said innocently, holding out his empty little hands as proof. "There no marker here." I pulled the marker out from under his shirt and gave him a look. It would have been far worse, I rationalized, if he'd managed to actually do damage with it before I'd caught him. Five minutes later, I walked into the dining room to find a motley row of marker-drawn faces leering back at me from the wall.

It's enough to make me yearn for those lazy, hazy days of the Not-So-Terrible Twos.

But while three hasn't been easy for me, no one's taking it harder than my husband. If you know anything about the guy, you know he can at times be a little bit ... intimidating. I mean, he's a very nice man, but he's also loud and aggressive when the occasion calls for it, and if you were to try to physically harm any member of his family, I have no doubt he'd knock your block off.

All this to say he's the kind of dad whose wrath even the most aggressive 3-year-old boy should fear — particularly if that 3-year-old boy has his father's reading glasses and won't give them back. Let's join this scene, already in progress:

"Give me my glasses back now, Bruiser," Hubs says, warningly.

"No!" Bruiser responds. "I NOT!"

"Give them back!" Hubs repeats.

"I NOT!" Bruiser yells. "I NOT! GIVE! THEM! BACK!"

Hubs' next move is to try and pry the glasses from Bruiser's stubborn grip. The kid's not relenting, though, and the glasses look like they're about to break. Hubs pauses, stands up straight and puffs out his chest.

"GIVE ME MY GLASSES NOW," he says in a take-no-prisoners tone. This is the point at which any other kid would crumple into a sobbing heap. Hell, I would, and I'm 34 years old. But Bruiser does the unthinkable. He balls his fists and rises up to his full three feet of height.

"I NOT GIVE YOUR GLASSES BACK, PUNK!" Bruiser screams at Hubs, red-faced. He finishes off with a loud, wet raspberry, and then slaps Hubs on the leg as hard as he can. My husband looks over at me with a mixture of frustration and pride. He's finally met his match — in his 3-year-old son. We're both silent for a moment, because ...

WTF?

Neither of us knows whether to be ecstatic over Bruiser's bravery in the face of the impossible — or terrified of what's surely to come when he's a teenager. To be honest, right now I'm trying not to think that far into the future. I'm just holding out for four. Fabulous four. Fantastic four. Friendly four.

"Fearsome four," a friend of mine with a preschool-aged son told me on the phone yesterday. "That's what I call it. Four's worse than three, Lindsay. Don't you get it? They're bigger. They're smarter. They're stronger."

In other words? I'm fourcked.

Read more Suburban Turmoil at www.suburbanturmoil.com.

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