I’m not going to do the cliche thing where I marvel at how my tiny baby has so quickly turned into this giant preschooler, and how is he THREE, how is that possible, wasn’t it just yesterday that he was born?! I’m not going to do that, I promise.
But holy cow, you guys, Judah is THREE.
Everyone marvels at how much a baby changes in the first year. And now that I’m doing it all over again with Noah, I can attest to the incredible transformation that occurs. Even just 2.5 months since he was born, Noah has gone from this tiny little (adorable) blob incapable of much of anything beyond sleeping, pooping, eating, and crying, to a tiny adorable blob who smiles, clearly recognizes his family, and is beginning to interact with us. I know by the end of next year, he will be even more full of personality.
But that first year is about learning the basics. Babies learn to move, bond with their caregivers, eat real food. Their actual personalities are only just beginning to form by their first birthdays. For me, the most startling changes in Judah occurred between his second birthday and third. This is when he started to become his own person.
A few weeks before Judah’s third birthday, I was attempting to clear room on my phone by deleting videos and pictures (an impossible task, because even though all of them are backed up in multiple places, HOW CAN I DELETE ADORABLE PICTURES OF MY BABIES? But I digress). Videos of Judah from just six months ago completely blew my mind. His barely intelligible 2-3 word phrases have been replaced with fully formed sentences, independent thoughts and ideas, and FINALLY a peek into the inner workings of his tiny but brilliant little brain. It. is. awesome.
He is learning to tell knock-knock jokes and sharing observations that are equally insightful and hilarious. His memory is astounding. He sometimes brings up memories of things that happened before he could even talk.
I know I used to have “conversations” with Judah before this transformation, but I can’t for the life of me remember what they were like now that he is communicating with me like a fully formed person.
So what do we talk about now? Well, mostly dinosaurs. Because if it’s not about dinosaurs, Judah is uninterested. He can identify more dinosaurs than I even knew existed a year ago. He corrects my pronunciations of species names, and let me tell you, you haven’t felt shame until your 2-year-old tells you, “No, Mama, it’s called pach-y-CEPH-a-lo-saurus.”
He is smart. I know, I know, every parent thinks their kid is a genius. But no. He is objectively smart. Too smart. Smart enough that it’s going to cause problems for us, because he is also stubborn, willful, and frustrated that his maturity level can’t keep up with his intelligence. He is very much a 3-year-old when it comes to social development, but his intellect is much older. How much older? I have no idea, because he is my firstborn. I don’t know what a 3-year-old is supposed to be doing academically, but I know Judah is ahead of most of his peers. I worry that this disconnect between his intellect and his maturity will hold him back socially, but I suppose he wouldn’t be the first kid with that problem. We have time to deal with that later.
He struggles in a lot of the ways that I did as a kid. He is emotional. He is quick to lose his temper. He is a hitter (so was I). I worry about him, but I remind myself that there was a time when I struggled to control my emotions. I remember that out-of-control feeling when I was a kid. When he throws a temper tantrum and cries so hard that he can’t catch his breath, those memories of that feeling come rushing back to me, and I hate it for him.
But I also know that my emotions came to be one of my biggest strengths when I learned to harness them for good. As I grew up, my quick temper was overshadowed by an extreme sense of empathy and concern for others. I’m optimistic, because I see that in him, too. Compassion and caring and a sense of duty to take care of people. I hope that I can teach him to choose his battles the way that I learned to choose mine, and I hope that by the time he is 30 he will be slow to lose his temper and quick to offer understanding.
This compassion and caring and sense of duty shines through most clearly in his bond with his baby brother. Before Noah was born, I had the concerns that most parents welcoming a second baby experience: I worried that Judah would feel neglected, jealous, resentful of the baby.
While the transition has not been perfect, not once has Judah directed any negativity toward his brother. Big brother is an identity that he has readily embraced, and it has uncovered a side of him that continually amazes me. He is kind to Noah, protective of him, and so full of love. When Noah cries, Judah rushes to him to reassure him. “I’m right here, baby brother.” He worries about him, and chastises me when he thinks I’m mistreating Noah. (“Don’t make him do tummy time! It makes him cry!” “Don’t put him down! He’ll get lonely!” “NOOO! YOU CAN’T EAT BABY BROTHER’S TOES, HE NEEEEEEEEDS THEM!”) Nothing is more exciting for Judah than the opportunity to hold his brother. I know this good will won’t last forever, and it won’t be long before I’m breaking up fist fights, but I am soaking it up for now.
Three-year-olds can be tiny tyrants, and Judah is no exception. He tantrums and acts out and pushes boundaries as much as the next three-year-old — actually, probably more than most. But there are moments when his humanity shines through, and those moments make up for the times when I’m scrubbing crayon off the walls or telling him for the 200th time today not to climb on the table or stomp in the house or growl at people like a dinosaur (OMG, that is the worst). When he softly sings “Twinkle Twinkle” to soothe his fussy brother; when I bang my shin on the coffee table and he rushes to my side, face twisted with concern, and says, “Don’t worry, Mama, I’ll kiss it and make you feel much better;” when he offers me the last fruit snack in the pack (a rare treat) just because he loves me.
I often tell people, kids this age are equally awful and awesome. For every moment when he makes me feel frustrated and exasperated, there is a moment when he makes me feel overwhelming pride, when he makes me laugh, when he touches my heart.
Yesterday, we had a rough morning. He was defiant and rowdy, and by 1 o’clock he’d pushed my buttons enough that I finally decided it was time for enforced quiet time that would hopefully turn into a nap. He was mad at me when I put him in his room, insisting, “I DON’T NEED A NAP!” But when he awoke over an hour later, it was like the morning never happened. He greeted me with a smile, curled up in my lap, and told me, “You know what, Mama? I was just thinking about how I love you.” We snuggled there for a full minute, which might as well be an eternity for a 3-year-old, and then he stood up and took off.
Five minutes later he was screaming in my face because I had the audacity to offer him the wrong cup.
This is a perfect illustration of life with a three-year-old. It is a roller coaster. It’s fun and exciting, a little scary, full of ups and downs. I am exhausted at the end of the day, and most days I wonder if I’m doing everything wrong. But those moments when he curls up into my lap and tells me that he loves me? Those moments make up for the frustrations of a million bad days.