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Threenagers and Big Girls

I first heard the “threenager” term when M was about two years old, from an acquaintance we ran into while shopping. We were talking about the challenges of parenting older kids — when I mentioned M was starting to have some fairly staunchly-held opinions, she told me all about threenagers. I still didn’t really know what we were in for, but now that M is rounding the corner on age three, I get it.

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Case in point, a conversation we had last week, verbatim:

Me: It makes me sad when M doesn’t listen.

Matt: Me too.

M: … You guys, I don’t care.

Is my child turning three in November, or thirteen?! It seems to be a matter of burgeoning independence mixed with the limitations of being a toddler, still — the combination that has led to a lot of meltdowns over the years, just coming out in different forms. She used to get frustrated when she was a baby and wanted to move but couldn’t make her body go; she wanted to feed herself and still had to learn; she wanted to communicate with us but we didn’t always understand her words. Now she can communicate clearly but the answer is often no and that triggers the threenager reaction.

She is very much wanting to be a big girl, though. There is a lot of talk about how big she’s going to get (“bigger than YOU!”) and all of the things she can do. We are at the stage where we have to stop and let her put on her own clothes, pour her own milk, put her own dishes in the dishwasher, because she’s a big girl and she can do it. And she can, it just means slowing our usual rush and expecting to mop up a few spills, correct a few shoes on the wrong feet, and accept that one sock is green and one is orange.

There are times, though, when I am reminded of just how small she still is, even if she doesn’t believe it. A few nights ago she came tiptoeing into my bed at three in the morning. At bedtime she had refused to wear pants, and now she was cold. She is normally impossible to share a bed with — even in her sleep she’s constantly moving — but this time she tucked herself under my blanket, curled into my arms, and relaxed. She was asleep in minutes, thumb hanging out of her mouth, and in the little bit of light coming in through the window she looked so much like she did when she was a baby.

I’ve heard from a lot of people that once we have a newborn again, our older kid is going to seem that much older. I already can’t believe that she’s almost three — when she stretches out next to me she’s half my height — and it’s hard to fathom her being even older and bigger, as much as she’s excited to grow up.

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