Everyone talks about the “terrible twos” as if they’re the worst thing going until your kid becomes a teenager. This is a bald-faced lie. Yes, 2-year olds suck. But threenagers are possessed by Satan. You might think little 2-year old Jimmy’s bad with his tantrums and his just-learned-the-word-no’s. But he has nothing on 3-year old Damien.
Which, by the way, is the name of every three-year-old, because at their third birthday, every child turns into the kid from The Omen.
When my son was two, I thought I might develop some kind of stress syndrome from the sound of Duplos clattering onto the hardwood floors. He’d sit and just pull books off the shelf for ten minutes, then stand up and saunter away from the pile. But now that he’s three, he’s Drax the Destroyer. He takes apart his brothers’ Lego creations just because he can. He decorated my entire hallway with enormous hieroglyphs of his own making -- in Sharpie. Now we have to explain to guests that Sunny was “in an artistic phase.” He dismantles all the things, then hides the pieces. And I thought re-shelving books was bad.
In the midst of a tantrum, that is. You could scoop up your 2-year old, toss him over your shoulder, and hustle his kicking ass out of Target quickly, neatly, and efficiently. You even got it down to a science: scoop, toss, hustle, ignore the screams in your ear. But threenagers are bigger. Threenagers are stronger. And your threenager has no more self-control than he did when he was two. So now he can plant himself and howl, and you have to struggle, and manhandle, and drag and cajole and possibly get kicked in the face. You can’t manage to toss him over your shoulder anymore; you always end up wrangling him into a kind of football carry that leaves him free to pummel you front and back while he screams and old ladies judge you as clearly a bad, bad, bad parent.
Your sweet little 2-year old made all his annoying mischief out in the open. Your threenager? Not so much. He’s old enough to ghost into another room and once there, destroy everything you love. This is how my kid Picasso’d our hallway. While you aren’t looking, he will steal your phone in an attempt to watch Dino Trux, mess it up irrevocably, then weep because there are no Dino Trux. You will weep because you can’t access the internet and your ring tone has changed to “You Sexy Thing.” He will steal candy with no moral compunction whatsoever. Or, like my husband did when he was three, he will sneak away from his cousins and wander two miles away, where he will be found eating cigarette butts.
Gone are the Terrible Two’s days of "Hop on Pop" and sundry Little Golden Books. Your threenager has the pop culture tastes of an actual kid. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rock, and though he doesn’t quite know what they are, they absolutely must adorn his underwear. You will find yourself humming the Beat Bugs and PJ Masks theme songs at odd times, possibly while waiting in line in public places. My threenager is often found watching some iteration of How to Train Your Dragon while playing a Dinosaur Train game on someones phone and yelling that he wants to wear his PJ Mask shirt RIGHT NOW. Of course, he must own all the action figures to all the aforementioned things or he will scream. See number 2.
This sounds like no big deal to the uninitiated. Your Terrible Two, when confronted with something he didn’t like or something he wanted, would just plant himself and cry. It was annoying. It was frustrating. But your threenager? Your threenager, in the same situation, repeats the same short phrase over and over. Little known fact: this is actually recognized as a form of torture by the Geneva Convention. “Wanna coloring book. Wanna coloring book. Wanna coloring book.” Over and over. Or, “I’m thirsty. I’m thirsty. I’m thirsty.” Try, “I wanna go home. I wanna go home. I wanna go home.” These are all delivered in unvarying miserable semi-monotone. You will snap. You always do.
We took our threenager Sunny to a local museum. He decided very quickly that he didn’t want to be there. But he didn’t say that he didn’t want to be there or he wanted to go home. Instead, a repeated (see above) “I’m thirsty,” once met, became “I have to pee,” became a repeated “I’m hungry,” then a repeated “Carry me!” Or imagine that your threenager’s gotten into the watercolors and made some horrible mess. When confronted, he blinks a few times, then launches into a rambling story about the dog (as if there’s any other kind for a threenager).
It’s frustrating for your toddler when he can’t find the right words to tell you what he wants, what he needs, or how the dog just sat on his head. Frustrating enough to launch him into a storm of tears. But this is nothing compared to your threenager, who can tell you exactly what he wants, when he wants it, how he wants it, who he wants to help him with it, and how that helping should be done.
He can tell you what he wants in Target (everything. Just … everything. Especially everything PJ Mask-related) - and lose it when you say no. He can tell you what he wants to eat - and lose it when that’s not a possibility (no brownies for breakfast, kid). He can screech at the dog to move, and move, and move again until the poor animal starts avoiding him. He can tell the whole world what he wants, and he will. Oh, he will. Shudder at the thought of his Christmas list.
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(Image: iStock / arnoaltix; IndigoLT)