I’ve made a lot of mistakes in the three years I’ve been a parent. I’ve let a bag of breast milk go bad, and cried; I’ve dropped my phone on my baby’s head more than once, and winced; and I’ve sent my child out into the world with two different shoes, and, well, honestly, just shrugged. I’ve installed the car seat incorrectly (DON’T WORRY, I FIXED IT); I’ve used soap instead of shampoo; and maybe I let my daughter try honey a day before she turned one.
There have been mistakes that have been big, that have made me question how good of a mother I am. And there have been mistakes that have been small, the kind that a human makes when running on three hours of sleep.
But no mistake — none — was worse than the one I made this week.
My daughter is a delightful, funny, smart, kind person. I think she’s the most wonderful person in the world. That being said, she is also three. Which means that sometimes, she takes a break from being the most wonderful person in the world to temporarily transform into a raging, inconsolable, illogical, screaming, crying goblin. The world’s cutest goblin, to be sure. But a goblin nonetheless.
There’s a name for this stage: threenager. A three-year-old who has the moodiness and temperament of a hormonal teenager. But it’s not the same, not really. Teenagers don’t still demand to still be carried through the mall. Teenagers don’t think that “biting” is an appropriate form of communication. And, perhaps most crucial, teenagers are asleep … basically most of the time they’re alive. Threenagers are awake, fighting sleep and ready to torment you.
So my daughter was having a day where she was behaving like a threenager. It was tantrum after tantrum after tantrum. I did what I could: I reasoned with her. I talked quietly with her. I gave her some space. I gave her some hugs. I gave her time to calm down. I tried to distract her. Nothing worked. So then I started threatening to take things away.
The first thing that she lost was her after dinner dessert. She was desolate, and I thought that this would be enough to curb any future tantrums. Of course, all that it did instead was create an entirely new series of tantrums, each one louder and screamier than the last.
And that’s when I did it. That’s when I made the mistake.
I believe it was after she hit me that I decided that it was the last straw.
“That’s it!” I said. “You do not get to watch any TV tomorrow.”
As soon as I said it, I knew I had a mistake. But it was too late.
We both spent the remainder of the afternoon crying and holding each other, she because her TV had been taken away, and me, because I had forgotten that by taking TV away, the person I was really punishing was myself.
We survived, but the moral of the story is this: Next time, I will ban puzzles instead.