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The Bittersweet End of Toddlerhood

Parenting a three-year-old was the definition of insanity: doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. How many times did I go over the same rules? I wish I had a daily count on the reminders to use words instead of whining, share toys, use manners, pee IN the potty and not ON the potty. We reminded and taught and disciplined and redirected and reminded some more.  The end of toddlerhood seemed some kind of myth.

Sometimes I could only think: This is my life now. Living like “The Song that Never Ends.”

But then. One day, my son offered to trade toy cars with his brother without my stopping to remind him. I later noticed him apologizing to another child without anyone making him.

Last week, he told me calmly and clearly, “Mommy, I am feeling frustrated because I want to go to the big kid’s school.”

It happened without any fanfare or introduction. One day, a lifetime of lessons just seem to start clicking in his sweet little preschooler brain. (Granted, it’s only four years of a lifetime, but a lifetime all the same.)

I have mixed feelings about this.

At first, all I could do was tell my husband every glorious detail of our parenting finally paying off. All of those timeouts, the pretend play scenarios, the hours and hours of speech therapy, the nights laying there thinking, “How do other parents do it?!” It all came full circle. We were doing okay. Our son was on his way to becoming a more pleasant, independent little boy.

So to all of you in the three-nager trenches: hold onto that. The payoff is coming. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. One day, you will not be cleaning peanut butter smears off the window from a child who forgot to wash his hands after lunch again.

But here’s the bittersweet part:

It happened without fanfare or introduction. He grew up, and I didn’t even see it coming. It just came.

Is this what it will be like from here on out? Is this what they mean when they say, “It happens in a blink”? Because I am not ready. I am not ready to blink.

Every age is so wonderful and so terrible at the same time so far. The snuggly newborn days and the rocking a screaming baby at 2 A.M. Teaching a one-year-old to walk and never sitting down again. Watching a two-year-old develop preferences and personality before he throws a tantrum when he doesn’t get his way. Laughing at a hilarious 3-year-old until he starts sassing you when you’re trying to instruct him. Seeing a 4-year-old grow from toddler to little boy and feeling time slip right through your fingers.

I’m trying to slow it down now. We turned the corner, and I’m ready to pause. But the clock keeps ticking, and I know I won’t miss the mornings when every single thing seems to be an argument to my 4-year-old negotiator. But I will miss the mornings when he says, “Wait, mommy,” as I walk him to his preschool class. “I need to give you one more hug and one more kiss.”

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but somehow the tunnel is still too darn short.

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