“Don’t bite my hair…”
I sigh as I lean forward to pull my three year old’s pants on after he’s used the toilet. My tone is warning and exhausted. It’s been a very long morning and it’s only 9:45am. My brain is still foggy from the broken night sleep I had, but I’m surprised when he bites me anyway. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am.
“What did I just say?” I ask, my voice raising ever so slightly.
He says nothing, but drops dramatically to the floor, crying alligator tears.
“Honey, I need you to sit up and look at me so I can talk to you about something”.
He ignores me and licks the floor.
“Sit up.” I say firmly.
He rolls onto his back, pushes against my stomach with his feet and grunts. He still hasn’t said a word.
“I’m going to count to three and if you don’t sit up I’m going to have to put you in time out.”
He shoots upright immediately, but keeps his chin to his chest, avoiding eye contact. He’s up on his knees now and shifting back and forth as if he needs to pee, even though I know he just went.
“Look at me.” I say, my tone softening slightly at my near victory.
He jerks his head up at lightning speed, cracking me on the chin and then fixing his stare on the ceiling. I can taste blood in my mouth. My hubris and good cheer are both gone.
“You need to look at me when I’m talking to you.”
“That’s it, if you don’t look at my face right now I’m putting you in time out!” I’m shouting now. How did I end up shouting again? I swore I wasn’t going to yell at him anymore. Now I’m just irritated that he made me break my promise.
He brings his face level with mine but won’t hold eye contact for more than a few seconds. It’s as if I have laser beams shooting from my eyeballs and burning his retinas. He squirms away again.
I decide this is close enough. Where do I begin? I take a deep breath.
“Honey, when I’m talking to you I need you to look at my face. It’s rude to ignore people.”
He catches my eyes again. His stare is wild and challenging, like staring down a silverback gorilla or a grizzly bear. I press on.
“Do you remember when we talked about respecting personal space? If someone tells you ‘no’ then you need to respect their body.”
He picks at my bra strap, busying himself with anything other than my lecture. He snaps it, and giggles.
“I asked you not to bite my hair and you did it anyway. Can you say you’re sorry?”
“Sorry.” he grunts and snaps my bra strap again.
“Thank you.” I say, not really satisfied with the result but realizing I’m fighting a losing battle.
“Can I have a hug?” I ask him for hugs every time he’s gotten in trouble, but right now I really need one.
“I’m Thomas. Thomas can’t give hugs because he doesn’t have any arms. Choo!” He yells even though his face is only about 2 inches from my own. He pushes past me and runs off.
I stay, slumped on the bathroom floor, too beaten to move. My eyes are burning and my heart is breaking. I think I’m a good parent. How did I get to this point? I can’t reach him when he’s like this; It’s like talking to a really loud brick wall.
Do all three year olds behave like this? He is my oldest child so every day is the first time I’ve ever had a child his age. I’m learning right along with him, but somewhere along the line our lessons got confused. I feel like I’m failing, and failing him.
I can hear him tooting as he runs furiously through the house, releasing the pent up anger or frustration he feels from our encounter. I cry to release my feelings, alone on the cold tile floor of the bathroom, my back to the door. I hear his footsteps approaching and then the thundering of his rage race stops. He’s breathing heavily in the doorway to the bathroom. I wipe my eyes before turning around. I don’t want him to see my tears.
He smiles at me cheerfully and chirps “I love you, Mommy”, then runs away again to play with his toys. For him the whole ordeal is over.
I feel numb. My ears are ringing and my head is spinning. I drag my body from the floor and steady myself on the counter. Maybe everything will be ok. It could just be a phase. This becomes my mantra as I force my legs to carry back into the rest of the house, and reality.
I watch him playing happily on his own. The fear I felt a moment ago is replaced by the deep love I have for this child. I walk over to him and hug his tiny frame. He ignores me and continues playing, but I don’t care. I hug him anyway.
Three seconds later I hear the baby crying on the monitor.