I knew the moment it happened. I could tell by the feeling of overwhelming panic and frustration welling up inside me. It wasn't the moment Aaron decided to climb onto the chest. It was the moment he decided to jump off. I had run over to show him the safe way to get down, and he had jumped into my arms. Thinking that this was a great game, and merited mom's full attention, Andrew joined the game. He climbed up and declared, "Look, Aaron. I can jump off like this!" And despite my protests for Andrew to stop, he would not stop jumping over and over. And Aaron was trying to step off of the 2 ft high chest right onto the floor, and I couldn't chase Andrew into his time out chair while also keeping Aaron away from the chest . . . and I really wanted to get the laundry done. So I did what any self-respecting mother would do when her husband is sick and she has woken up at 4:30 in the morning for the second day in the row and she just wants to have a clean shirt to put on . . . I put pillows around the chest so they couldn't hurt themselves, and went back to folding laundry.
And that was the beginning of the end. No one got hurt -- we have a lot of very big couch cushions which sufficently broke everyone's falls until the jumping fiasco came to an end. But that was the moment when I didn't act, and should have. I failed the 3 year old will-mommy-really-stop-me test. And we all know (at least those of us with 3 year olds) what happens when we fail the three year old test. The whining and hitting and knocking over and demanding and general obnoxious behavior begins. "Are you going to stop me mommy? Are you going to stop me?" seems to be the question that glows in the eyes of my child. "I won't stop myself. Will you stop me? When? How many times?"
So the test begins. And so the test continued all weekend long. And all week long, until I was numb from the pinches and the screams and my back was sore from lifting a heavy three year old into the little white chair and going to set the timer, and my baby started insisting to be carried becuase being down on the floor with big brother raging was just not safe anymore. . . . and I gave up with time out and gave up taking things away and just started giving warnings. Insipid, foolish warnings that do nothing. "If you do that again . . . " my voice rings hollowly. Until my clever 3 year old starts saying "I won't do it again, mommy." as I go to take away the shovel he has just tried to plow his brother with. I am struck with the foolishness of my warnings and I take the shovel away.
And so the test culminated today with a bite. Yes, a bite from my 3 year old son. I had finally sat down with him, and was tring to have a moment of peace while he played before bed. But really he needed to go to bed, and I just wanted him to stay up later to forestall another pre-5am waking tomorrow. So he sat down next to me. And when his brother decided to climb up as well, he bit me. Hard. And I got up and just walked away. And he cried "I need you, mommy!" and in a moment he came and apologized and curled up on my lap, and we went to have a bath. And in the bath he gently smoothed bubbles over the top of his brother's head to wash his baby soft hair. And they smiled at each other and in the way of small children, all was well between them.
After he is in bed, I am left to wonder what this test is all about. Is it because I'm trying not to yell? Is it abou power? Indepenence? Attention? Maturity? I'm not sure. And then I wonder why I need to know.
On my end, it is about consistency -- my lack of it. It is why I am chronically 10 lbs overweight, 10 min. late, 1 week overdue . . . you get the picture. I decide to do it now, and then I decide to do it later, and then tomorrow, and then the tomorrows become a week, two weeks, a month until it is too late to do it at all. With a library book, all this means is that you owe the library a few dollars. But what do you owe a child who grows up with no consistent structure and discipline because you were going to do it later and later and later and then they were gone.
Generally speaking I've always been good at tests. Teachers have usually asked questions I knew the answers to. Friends have usually been disarmed by a clever quip and a quick smile and a peace offering, if needed. But my son shows me what I still need to learn. Where I need to grow, and who I need to become so I can be his best parent, and my best self.