He’s Still 3
Sometimes I screw up.
Sometimes I use the last of the toilet paper and forget to put a new roll there (which usually makes MY life harder later and not anyone else’s). Sometimes I wash the cloth diapers but forget to dry them until we literally have none left. Regularly, I let my phone get all the way to 1% before I decide to charge it, begrudgingly. Sometimes, I forget to check Cameron’s workout area for his gym clothes before doing the rest of the laundry (so I have to do a second load just for them).
I like learning new things. In the past 6 months or so, I have dabbled in American Sign Language. I’ll learn a few signs here and there and then practice them. I have a couple of deaf followers on social media, and I will send one or both of them video messages so they can critique me and help me improve.
Sometimes I get signs wrong (way wrong) even if I once had them right. Sometimes I get the same sign wrong over and over and just can’t seem to get it right.
You know the alphabet song? You know at the end, it goes “Now I know my ABCs. Next time won’t you sing with me?” I know the signs for all of that. And of course I know how to sing the alphabet song. But when I try to sign WHILE I’m singing? It’s a big mess. I get my signs wrong. And I have to go reeeally slowly if there’s any hope of getting it all right.
And I’m a grownup.
I’ve been doing learning and living for more than 30 years. Some of the things I screw up, I’ve been doing for many many years. But somehow, I forget. Something else is occupying my brain. Maybe I’m tired. Maybe I’m distracted by one of the kids. Whatever the case, I forget.
Does Cameron come home, find that there’s no toilet paper, and yell at me? Does he send me away and tell me to think about what I’ve done? No of course not. He says, that’s okay. He might make a suggestion, “Why don’t you put a whole package of toilet paper under the sink in there?” Or maybe, he might put the package in there for me.
It’s about finding solutions together. I usually feel bad when I forget to wash his gym clothes. That’s on me. He doesn’t need to say anything. It’s one of my roles (just like he has many many roles) — and, truth be told, laundry is one of my favorites — and so when I forget part of it, I feel bad. I want my husband, whom I love, to have clean clothes for working out (which he loves to do). If he got mad at me, it wouldn’t serve any purpose.
When we are dealing with small people, we have to remember that they have far less impulse control than we do. They are learning constantly and don’t always remember everything. Try putting two NEW skills together, and it’s likely they will mess them up, even if they are okay with just one of them. Take this example:
Alexander loves his alphabet. He knows it forwards and backwards (for real). If I ask him to say his ABCs backwards, he will do it with no pause. Now introduce a new factor: Annabelle is in his space and trying to take something from his hand. I move her away, but she keeps going back to him. In this game of back and forth, I say, “Hey bud, say you ABCs backwards.” He misses letters. He pauses, a lot. And before it’s all over, he might push his sister (something we’re working on daily).
As the adult in the situation, it’s my job to help him with these tricky, sticky daily occurrences. I could have moved Annabelle (I usually do). I could have given her something really interesting to play with so she would be less interested in what Alexander was holding. And then, he wouldn’t have felt so overwhelmed that he needed to push, AND he would have had the satisfaction of finishing his ABCs backwards without messing up.
It’s about finding solutions. What works for everyone involved? How can I find a way to help without shaming him for making a mistake? We all mistakes. Every one of us. When we’re tired, scared, frustrated, hungry, overwhelmed. We goof up even when it’s something we’ve been doing for years!
Sometimes our mistakes don’t affect other people.
Sometimes they do. It’s important for me to show grace and lead by example. Alexander is just a 3 year old. He’s still learning boundaries. He is still working on controlling his impulses. There are a lot of things I can do to help him* but in the meantime, I have to remember: He’s still 3. He’s only 3. And he’s doing pretty great.
*I recommend Peaceful Parent Happy Siblings if you’re working on sibling rivalry or welcoming a new baby! I continue to go back to the same couple of chapters these days, about aggression.
One of the biggest things the author suggests is preventative maintenance. For some reason, Alexander sometimes sees Annabelle as a threat. Either I’m holding her too much (which threatens his security) or she’s getting into his things too much (which threatens his right to play and right to ownership). Somehow he feels like she needs to be stopped, and I’m not doing anything about it. So he shows her how he feels in the only way he knows how.
My role in all of this is to make sure he feels safe, secure, loved, protected. I want him to know that his time is valuable, his role in our family is invaluable, and that if he’s playing, he has a right to play until he’s done, with or without his sister there. (Sometimes he really likes playing with her and they’ll do things together. But other times, not so much. She just gets in the way and messes up what he’s doing. I get it!)
How do I do that? I try, every day, at least once, for 15+ minutes, to just sit with him. While AB naps, I sit with Alexander and watch him play. If he wants me to join in, I do. I don’t look at my phone at all. I just hang out with him. It’s so cool because I see little things I don’t usually see when I’m trying to wrangle them both.
And you want to know something? The days when I do take that special time with him, he either doesn’t push her at all or maybe does it once. I don’t find myself getting frustrated with him. It’s like magic. It’s really pretty spectacular – he just needs to know he’s special and loved and not JUST a big brother. He’s still my sweet boy, my 3 year old, my favorite little Alexander in the world. And nothing will change that. I love him completely and unconditionally (just like I love AB!). But as we all know, actions speak louder than words. So that special time is my way of showing him that I really really do love him and that he really is safe. It speaks volumes to him, and he helps out greatly with his relationship with his sister.