How have I not already used this as a blog post title? I suspect the fact that the little guy has only been 3 for about five months has something to do with it.
The little guy has always been what his mother and I would describe as “intense”, and once he transitioned from baby to walking/talking toddler that intensity became more and more manifest as “willfulness”. I’m very used to it by now, and I’ve accepted the fact that I’m always going to have to find ways to either work with it or around it. So the fact of him being willful (contrary, ornery, &c.) no longer surprises me – but sometimes the specific manifestations still do.
Some time in the last few months (the exact timing eludes me) the little guy underwent a subtle transformation from pure rampaging id to a … ok, honestly, I have no idea what to label him as now, and maybe that’s all for the best. The rampaging id is easy to identify, because it’s the little guy throwing himself on the ground and kicking and screaming and repeating things over and over and over again (either the thing he wants which he’s being denied, or just the word “no” if he’s fighting with me or my wife over something we want him to do). And the only thing we ever did with the rampaging id was allow itself to burn out its furiosity and then lead the way in calmly moving on. Recently, though, the tantrums seem to end (or at least change gears ) much more quickly, and with minimal prompting from us. The little guy will yell and shout his protest and then just kind of collapse, seeming to go from anger to sadness complete with burying his weeping face on the couch, thrusting a rejecting stiffarm in our general direction, and saying “Go away! Just leave me alone!” And of course, I can’t help but wonder … is this his evolving emotional profile showing itself to us? Is he genuinely becoming the kind of person who feels brief anger followed by a devastating sadness, and who needs to shut everything down and step back to get a grip? And is he figuring out the rudimentary parameters of this at age three? OR … is he totally playing us, and figuring out the rudimentary parameters of manipulating us into feeling sorry for him? (Because we do, for the most part. I don’t think there’s been an instance yet where he’s reached the “Go away!” point and we haven’t said “Awww … poor little guy.”) Is one or the other of those possibilities – more sophisticated self-management, or more sophisticated exploitation of parental concern – more likely at his age? Or is “I can’t help but wonder” a cover for me saying “I can’t help but project” which, in fact, we all know I’m guilty of on a frighteningly regular basis?
Yet another possibility is that it’s all three; the little guy is getting somewhat more nuanced in the way he interacts with the world (because he has to be, he’s growing up little by little every day) and some of those new facets of his personality will be more desirable, and some less so, and through it I’m constantly looking for myself in him because (a) he really is bright (and still intense) for his age and (b) I fall a little too easily into the trap of not thinking of him as a small child but as a short, occasionally spastic potential peer and (c) it’s just an inherent weakness of mine, I’m not made of stone here people, come on.
A much more recent addition to the little guy’s repertoire only complicates the issue even further. Lately he’s taken to responding to any firm drawing-the-line by me or my wife with the following cri-du-coeur: “You guys NEVER let me do ANYTHING I want!” Additionally complicated by the fact that that particular gem doesn’t make us go “awww”, it makes us laugh (which we take great pains to stifle and/or hide). Again, it’s slightly more nuanced than just digging his heels in, and it also smacks of attempted guilt-trippery (however ill-conceived for its blatant untruthfulness), and it also makes him sound exactly like he’s about fourteen years old. Kids, they grow up so fast.
But then again, you know, just this morning my wife sent me a phone picture message with a shot of our son sporting a ridiculously adorable and age-appropriate smeared-chocolate Vandyke. That was on the heels of a picture of our daughter pulling herself to a standing position on the edge of the little guy’s train table. So I can probably put off completely recalibrating my expectations of the little guy’s interpersonal sophistication a little bit longer, which is convenient since I’m apparently thiiiiis close to several months of chasing a wobbly little girl around the house and making sure she doesn’t pull too many heavy things down on top of her head.