Around 7:30 last night, I walked outside to retrieve a jacket that had been left on top of one of our cars. As I rounded the corner of the back of the house, two people were walking down a gravel road that runs near our place. For a brief second, I felt melancholy. I remember being able to take a nice stroll at dusk, before the wave of children and their bedtime took over our lives. I yearned for that pre-baby luxury.
If your single or childless so much is still going on at that time of day, but not in our house. I grabbed the jacket off the hood of the car and trudged back inside. The kids and Mama were finishing up story time and I went in and sat at my computer, waiting until she would return downstairs and we’d settle into our slow crawl towards bedtime.
Fifteen minutes all was quiet when I heard a sound. Was that vomiting? Then a yell from Mama for me to come upstairs. Baby G had gorged himself on dinner only an hour or so early and had puked some of it back up, on himself and Mama. I took the disgusting sheets downstairs while G took a bath.
“These kids are never gonna go back to bed now,” Mama told me when I returned. Four-year-old B and I went into the next room to play. When Mama came in with G wrapped in a towel I was teasing B about going to Target to buy a Marvel action figure, maybe Black Panther. “Too bad we can’t go,” I said. “Will it be open in the morning?” he asked. “It’s open now actually,” I said. “Too bad we can’t go.”
“Why not?!” said Mama. “Let’s just go. These kids are gonna be up forever.” Really?” I wondered out loud. The thought of us all going out as the night was descending seemed revolutionary. “Let’s do it,” she said, and so we quickly threw on some clothes and headed out in the car.
As we drove along it was blowing my mind. All these places–restaurants and stores–still open, so many cars still on the roads. I ticked down the names as we passed. “Red Lobster’s still open. Outback’s still open.”
A little after 8:30 we arrived at Target and all ran in. B was hyped for a new toy, G was digging riding in the cart, Mama and I were both jazzed to just be out and about. We found no Black Panther at Target so then–feeling wild and crazy–stopped at Wal-Mart nearby where we located a Hawkeye figure from the new Avengers movie. Success!
By 9:15 we were back in the car and on our way home. Little G fell asleep as we neared the house and so around 9:30 Mama lifted him out of her Jetta and took him upstairs to his little bed. B was still so excited that we let him stay up to play until a little after 10 before he went up too. I followed thirty minutes later, Mama shortly afterwards.
Today, we’re all a little exhausted from our night out, but it was well worth it. If nothing else, Mama and I got to see what life on the outside is still like.
“Three is a conforming age. Three-and-a-half is just the opposite. Refusing to obey is perhaps the key aspect of this turbulent, troubled period in the life of the young child. It sometimes seems to his mother that his main concern is to strengthen his will, and he strengthens this will by going against whatever is demanded of him by that still most important person in his life, his mother.”
This quote is found on page 5 of Your Three Year Old: Friend or Enemy, published in 1976 and written by two old biddies named Frances L. Ilg and Louise Bates Ames. Recommended to me by a friend who is an educator, I have only made it this far and that may be as far as I will, but when I read this paragraph I had to put it down. My first reaction was reassurance that my three-and-a-half year old is just following a recognized pattern. It’s good to know that B is not especially malevolent.
Secondly, if his mother is the most important figure in his life, then he’s in a little trouble because he spends a big chunk of his days with me, his father. Thirdly, this book is dated and obviously composed by people who did not and could not anticipate a wave of fathers who would assume the mother’s place in the home. As a result, have us stay-at-home dads replaced the mother as the seminal figure in the toddler’s life? I don’t think so. Although I’m an authority figure I’m a playmate just as much. Mama is there for emotional support and as a result receives more of his anger and love (although I still get plenty of both, particularly the former).
So is my three-and-a-half year old my enemy? It can feel that way when B walks over and karate chops me in the groin or yells at me for accidentally knocking over one of his action figures, as he did yesterday. Yet, he’s also my friend, like when he pretended to help me clean out the gutters or when we colored Wolverine and Hawkeye in one of his coloring books (although we argued over what crayons to use). Perhaps it would be more accurate to call him my frenemy.