Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Terrible Three's

At parent-teacher conferences last year I told one dad that his daughter was doing fantastic, that she participates in discussions, completes her assignments on time and with care, and that if she kept up such great work I would probably recommend her for the advanced 10th grade class (which I did).  The dad smiled, shook his head.  His daughter, sitting right there with us, beamed at him and giggled.  "Have you heard this a lot today?"  I asked them.

"I've got skills, you know,"  he told his daughter and me.  "I've got parenting skills that I never get to use!"  With child care experience, degrees in education, and years of managing the behavior of adolescent students, his comment resonated with me, and I hoped to say the same one day in regards to my own kids.

But I guess my nearly three-year-old's have other plans for now.

I've heard the rumors and have taken note that "terrible two's" is a misnomer, that two-year-old's have nothing on three-year-old's when it comes to terribleness.  I've been on the look-out, and I'd say already, even though we're still technically in the two's, that we've entered that world.  Overall Michael and Sophie are still caring, playful, and easy-going kids, but there has been more refusing, more running away and chasing, more whining, more...challenges...here lately.

The other night Michael and Sophie wanted to make it clear to us that the "terrible three's" had truly arrived.  At dinner.  In public.  At a relatively nice Italian restaurant.  Mike and I have taken the kids to many meals out going way back to when we had to request large booths to accommodate the two of us, two infant car seats, and the double diaper bag.  Having done this so much, we're typically pretty confident that these adventures will go smoothly.

Out to brunch as infants
Even our particularly stressful meals out have been manageable, and more often than not, on our way out of the restaurant, an arm reaches out from a nearby table to stop us, to compliment us on our well-behaved children.  I didn't realize how inclined people were to do that before experiencing it, and I appreciate the encouragement.

Then Michael let out a yelp at this Italian restaurant on Saturday, and in true monkey-do fashion, Sophie joined in the fun.  They kept this up for a minute or two, and our usual tactics of occupying, quieting, and correcting behavior had no impact.  Then the food came, and the kids filled their noisy mouths with ravioli as Mike and I exchanged looks of exasperation.

At a large table behind us, a work group was celebrating someone's going away.  I know this because there were speeches and mild shouts, and an overall atmosphere of letting down one's hair.  It was comforting to know that, although their outburst surely hadn't gone unnoticed, my kids at least hadn't exceeded our neighbors' decibels.

But in a booth in the opposite direction I noticed an older woman with gray hair in a braided bun and a generous martini sitting alone in a small booth reading her mail.  I did worry that Michael and Sophie might get riled up again and disrupt her evening.

And riled up they got, loudly demanding bites of our meals, refusing to eat more of their own, pulling their straws out of their cups repeatedly, splattering milk around every time and giggling devilishly.  I eventually picked Michael up and took him to the entry area.  We sat down and I told him how much I love going to restaurants with him and Sophie, how they usually follow the rules so well, and we have a fun time.  He agreed.  This is when I winged it.  I told him there were three rules for restaurants: 1) eat your food, 2) be quiet, and 3) listen to Mommy and Daddy.  I had him repeat them back to me.  We talked about the choices he had made so far and the choices he would make now so we could keep eating at restaurants.

In the middle of our little talk I heard more yelping coming from Sophie back at the table. She was in Mike's lap when we came back, and I sat beside them with Michael in mine.  I told Sophie that Michael and I were just talking about how much we like going to restaurants, like the one with the train that runs around the ceiling and the one with the fish tanks where we get breakfast, but how they have to follow the rules if we're going to keep going out like this.  I asked Michael to tell Sophie the three rules, and he did.  I told both of them to look around at the other people at the restaurant, that being quiet is how we are nice to them, that we're helping them enjoy a good dinner time that way.  They seemed to be taking it in.  At this point the server returned with Mike's credit card.  He had gotten the ball rolling to wrap this particular meal up pretty quickly.

To my surprise, on the way out the door, an arm reached out.  The woman with the martini stopped me and said, "You have a beautiful family.  My daughter is a clinical psychologist, and she would have loved this."  I don't know how much of what had gone on she could have heard, but she looked me hard in the eyes and said, "You are a good mom."  Best. Compliment. Ever.  You can see why I'm getting all wordy with this post to savor it.  It meant a lot more to me than the positive comments that come after easy meals.

Out to brunch last spring
As the challenges build now and in years to come, I suppose I should try to appreciate these opportunities to stretch my parenting legs.

Happily, though, Michael and Sophie were able to tell us the rules for restaurants at lunch with our parents the next day (see, we eat out a lot), and they behaved beautifully.  I'm not kidding myself, though, that this particular problem is solved or that I actually know what the hell I'm doing.  I'm sure this is only the beginning, and I really ought to study up!

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