“Can I help you with that?” I ask my son as he focuses all of his energy through squinted eyes and pointed eyebrows. “No!” he yells as blocks come tumbling down. I’m no engineer, but I know that very tall buildings, even plastic ones, need a solid base. I am eager to help him build something that functions, but he is eager to build something on his own that he can be proud of. I step back a bit, knowing this isn’t the 2-year-old that reaches for mommy for everything. This kid is on a mission to learn no matter how many times his designs fail. This is 3-and-a-half years of age, when I can do it! reigns.
My son loves to dance to shapes songs, but he makes sure his family knows that we are merely spectators. No sooner had I begun singing the chorus about triangles than I was being escorted off his stage as he screamed, “No, Mommy!” What was I thinking? I have been singing and dancing for decades, albeit badly. The reminder, though, that these moments are opportunities for him to showcase his new skills are a welcome one. I have to keep in mind that this littler person has been on this earth for less than four years. Everything is new to him.
The zoo, which we’ve been to a handful of times since he was a baby, is new in that he can now name the big cats and knows what sounds the animals make. The park is new to him now in that he can now independently navigate the bigger kid play structure and the slide without tipping over on the way down. All of these things are adventures. And for a mama like me who also has a teen boy and is used to hearing what her son is “tired of,” this newness is refreshing.
While big brother is busy complaining about going to school, little TJ packs his backpack with random broken crayons, filled up coloring books, and some dinosaur stickers. He carries it around everywhere as though one of these days a trip to the grocery store is going to turn into his first day of preschool. He points out the school buses and asks to get on. “Not yet, Teej.” But the day is coming where he will go to school, and the guilt that I gave into when taking him to daycare for the first time will be assuaged by his excitement.
He gives me warm, authentic hugs and won’t fall asleep until I lay down by him.
While 3-and-a-half-year-olds are not the most selfless and generous of people, they are learning to care about others. When I’ve had a particularly bad day, and he happens to catch me sulking or shedding a tear, he is the first person to offer a hug and ask “What’s wrong, Mom?” Because in his world, the person who isn’t allowed to sing and is wrong about that crocodile being an alligator is the same person who loves him unconditionally, and he knows it.
He won’t always meet my expectations — such as sharing without five minutes of dramatics and waterworks and sitting still in grocery store carts — but I won’t always meet his, either. Sometimes I run out of the only cereal he likes to eat. Sometimes I don’t feel like playing talking dinosaurs with him. In return, I give him grace when he doesn’t feel like picking his blocks up off the floor or putting away his play dough because my god those one-dollar containers add up when you’re replacing them every week.
“I understand you don’t want to do this right now, but we have to do it. You want to do something else first?” I offer. He takes me up on the offer, and we go from the fun stuff to the chores with ease.
There’s plenty of time to worry about following directions on command. While I’m busy teaching him to write his letters and count past ten, he is teaching me that I am a work in progress. My patience could use a little work. I cry over spilled milk, literally. I don’t always understand every word of his very exciting stories about daycare, bugs, and excavators. Yet, he gives me warm, authentic hugs and won’t fall asleep until I lay down by him. His dawdles to spot a trail of ants when we’re running especially late for daycare are a special form of mindfulness that only a preschooler can teach you to practice. So for right now, we’ll dawdle some more and enjoy this time right before he realizes he still has so much yet to learn about this world.
For more pieces like this, visit Shiny Happies, our collection of the best parts of raising those little people you love.