Years ago I remember something a friend of mine had written about how nothing – NOTHING – compares to a 3-year-old boy. I believe she had been referring to the behavior of a 3-year-old boy in Mass. At the time, I had three girls, including one 3-year-old girl who was exhausting and infuriating me. I remember not wanting to fall into the comparison trap and to just accept that young children – no matter their gender – can be difficult. But I am starting to grasp what my friend was getting at. Thomas the Terror, as I affectionately refer to my almost 3-year-old boy silently in my head, is a different creature altogether than a little girl. Madeline was very active. We made up a Native American name for her – Hopping Cricket – because of her nonstop energy. She ran and jumped everywhere and refused to sleep, but it was still not the same as Thomas’s level of physicality. She also did love to color rather than chucking crayons at my head as someone in our house might be guilty of doing on more than one occasion. Thomas plows into me daily, and I don’t know whether to expect a bear-like hug or a linebacker tackle.
Overall in my little mothering world, I’d still say the most challenging child I’ve had to figure out thus far does have more than one x chromosome. That said, this toddler phase has never been quite as exhausting as it has been with my rough and tumble boy. Thomas had always been my best napper, which sometimes was difficult since gone are the days when I can remain cloistered at home like a total recluse with littles. My oldest is a gregarious, active one who has fallen in love with the sport of soccer. When I only had littles, life was more simple. There was story time at the library and playdates or park visits, but I stayed home a lot. Now we’re on the move, so carving out time for Thomas to take his lengthy siesta wasn’t always easy. Come summer, however, he decided to boycott naps. Every day I tenaciously attempt to get him to nap or at least mandate quiet time, but he’s decided he’s a big boy now. Only problem is, he’s not. He’s still very much a toddler who gets angry and unreasonable and just goes bezerk when he’s tired. And he’s always tired lately. We were grocery shopping recently, and I thought I had everything under control when Thomas sprinted off. (I’ve become one of those moms who plies her toddler with big lollipops to keep him happy – mothering has humbled me like nothing else. But on this particular trip, Thomas immediately tossed the lollipop. I thought about popping it back in his mouth, but I noticed a few black hairs on it and I had not yet reached that level of desperation.)
“Madeline, chase him down!” I shouted.
Off she went with her long legs sprinting toward her screeching brother. Her two sisters galloped behind her, eager to help herd their brother back to me. But for a little guy, he sure is speedy and agile. He continued to evade his big sisters.
When I could see the absolute futility of their efforts and when Thomas started shrieking even more loudly, I joined the chase. I eventually caught up to him (and the physical therapist told me not to sprint yet – ha!), but not before he’d proceeded to “pinch” six eggs. Yes, he was pinching eggs between two fingers and crushing them. The he wiped the yolk all over his shirt and looked at me with wide, surprised eyes. Sometimes he reminds me of Lennie from Of Mice and Men.
“They was so little,” I can hear Thomas-Lennie saying. “I pet them, but I didn’t mean to break them.” When I tried to pay for the crushed eggs in addition the untouched eggs we actually needed to bring home, the clerk shook her head sympathetically. “Don’t you worry about that,” she said.
At this point, the girls were goofing off. They weren’t really doing anything wrong – just being giggly and poking each other in the ribs here and there – but Thomas was shrieking again, and I was gritting my teeth, telling myself I would only make solo trips to the grocery store from here on out.
He’s been having a rough time. He screams despite the fact that he is actually very verbal when he wants to be and can, in fact, use his words. He throws things. He kicks and pulls hair. (At least he doesn’t bite. Knock on a big, old piece of wood for me now, would you?) When he goes boneless and I attempt to pick him up to bring him wherever he needs to be (oftentimes just inside the house), he seems to unleash all the wrath of the world upon me, and limbs are flying and those dimpled, little hands are grabbing fistfuls of my hair, and I am just praying I won’t drop him or lose it myself. It’s amazing how a toddler’s fits of irrational madness and uncontrollable fury can lead a grown woman to start twitching, flushing, and clenching her jaw (maybe that’s why the oral surgeon said I had more arthritis in my jaw than what is typical for a person of my age).
Even when he’s happy, he careens into me with nearly enough force to knock me off my feet. He doesn’t climb; he scales. He doesn’t yell; he screeches. Life is amplified with him around.
But I’ll tell you what he also does. He hijacks my heart on a daily basis. He spontaneously kisses me throughout the day. After dinner, he frequently says, “Thank you for making this for me, Mommy.” He tells me I’m pretty. He cups my face into his hands and gazes into my eyes before pulling me in for a hug or a wet kiss. He cries when I do discipline and plaintively says sorry. He cuddles next to me at night and asks me to pick him up when he’s tired, happy, or sad. He loves his mama fiercely, and I love him right back.
As big sister Mary Elizabeth remarked recently while simultaneously attempting to work through some of her kindergarten homeschool curriculum and dodge a rainbow of markers her brother was launching in her direction, “Thomas is complicated.”
And so long as we’re talking about Thomas, the other morning he put on a Darth Vader mask, which was a nice change since he’s frequently sporting one of his sister’s princess frocks, and said in a spooky voice, “I am a human. I am going to eat you up.” He clearly knows nothing about Star Wars and has also confused the words “human” and “monster.” He probably got the “eat you up” bit from Where the Wild Things Are, a favorite book of his. He is my little wild thing.