I finally drifted off to sleep last night somewhere around 10:30 and woke up shortly thereafter to the sound of Ethan's toy lawn mower being revved up in the living room. I climbed out of bed, zombie-walked myself into the living room and was greeted by a bright eyed three year old who had likely been there for some time. "Oh, hi, mommy!" He was busy playing with his toy lawn mower and his toy cars, blocks and Hungry Hungry Hippos game that were all dispersed across the floor led me to believe that he had been there for some time. "It's the middle of the night, Ethan. We have to go back to bed." He thought about it and then let out a big "NO." He waited for my reaction. I quietly took his hand and began leading him back down the hallway towards his bedroom. "When the light is on, it looks like daytime. I am pretending that it is day time," he said, slapping the lights back on as I turned them off on our walk. "We can't pretend it's daytime, Ethan. You will be so tired in the morning if you don't sleep when it is nighttime," I tried to rationalize. "It is good to pretend. I am using my 'mag-nation." After about forty-six attempts to climb over me to exit his bed, twenty-eight attempts to sit up and read a book and thirty-nine attempts to "accidentally" kick me in the nose, sleep happened at around 2:30 in the morning. Of course, Ethan decided 7:00 was still an ideal wake-up time and that there's nothing else I wanted to do on virtually no sleep than pick up hundreds of toothpicks off of our floor. Three year old terrorism, man, it's real.
Parenting a three year old is challenging so far. It's been the first time I've ever felt helpless, the first time I haven't been kidding when I send my husband a barrage of text messages pleading for him to come home, please come home. I slather myself in the guilt that a pregnancy and baby loss have put a huge roadblock and detour in the smooth sailing of our everyday life, but in my heart I know that's not fair to do. Ethan would be three whether or not I had gotten pregnant and whether or not I lost Wylie or brought her home. Age three is how toddlers soul search. It's how they come into themselves, find themselves. It's a miniature identity crisis and sneak peak into the teenage years all at once. "I don't love you anymore, mommy. I just don't." "I'm sorry you feel that way, but I love you very much." "Well, I don't love you." It's five minutes after I'm about to be emancipated from my parental obligations by my three year old that he climbs onto my lap and throws his arms around my neck. "I was kidding, mommy. I love you so much." Age three is hot and cold. It's little bodies flung onto the floor and the sputtering sound of hysterical sobs, breaths needed to be caught. It's basically being kicked out of Barnes and Noble, because that definitely happened this afternoon.
This afternoon, a little boy was already playing at the train table at Barnes and Noble. Ethan decided he wasn't going to share and the little boy had to leave. As I explained to Ethan why that wasn't nice or going to happen, he decided he was going to scream so loud that other parents actually began to rush over to help. Help, of course, because they thought he had injured himself -- what else could prompt such deafening screams? The store never seemed so big as I ran out holding my screaming child, his body convulsing from the power it took to let out such powerful screams. "Some kids," muttered a woman on our way out. "Some parents," muttered her friend. For twenty five minutes, Ethan refused to bend so that I could buckle him in his car seat. For twenty five minutes, I sat in the backseat of my car in a thunderstorm while he rolled around the floorboards telling me how it was the worst day he ever had and it was all my fault. After twenty five minutes, his body was weakened enough where I could strap him in and head home. Eight minutes into our ten minute drive, I heard an "I am having a rough time now, mommy. If you sing me a song, I will feel better. I wasn't being a nice friend but I am going to be a nice friend now. It's just a little rough day, mommy."
Age three is a whole new adventure because now not only can he not control his emotions, he realizes that he cannot control his emotions and that causes him to lose his little mind even more. My challenge lays somewhere within getting him to calm down enough to try to regain the control he is well aware he is lacking and, you know, preventing him from laying down in protest in the middle of a busy parking lot after I tell him he can't go for a ride in a parked police car two spots over. It's teaching him to stay in control when I feel like I've already lost control. It's a challenge for me to both empathize with the confusing way he's feeling and teach him how to master it while wanting to call my husband, curl up in a corner and cry myself into oblivion -- very obviously not mastering it myself. It's a little voice piping up from the depths of the couch cushions, "I am not going to stop hitting. And I am going to My Gym. I will just go without you." I am learning as much as he is learning and I have to try my hardest to not buckle under the pressure and anxiety of having to be the one leading by example.
It's the moments in between the freak-outs that still give me the sweet peace of knowing the baby boy who has been my unwavering sidekick since his birth; it's reassurance he's still in there and an exorcism isn't totally necessary after all. We take our deep breaths, exchange our hugs and spend the rest of the afternoon playing hide and seek or dancing in the living room like my ears weren't still ringing from the screaming that happened five minutes prior. In a weird way, it's reassurance that he's growing up. He's finding himself. He's figuring out the big, scary world -- and it's a second chance for me to do the same while still being his safe place. His judgment-free zone. The arms that will still scoop him up after he requests cucumber slices and then throws them on the floor in dismay upon realizing he doesn't, in fact, want cucumber slices.
These days are a learning experience for all of us. Just like eight o'clock bedtimes. These days, those are for all of us, too.