Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Case of the Three-Year-Olds

I love Hannah. She has such a sweet little mischievous smile, and she makes me laugh, even when I shouldn't. She loves to wear dresses, especially that dang long skirt, and wear "earrings" and curl her hair. She always asks me, "Now am I beautiful?" She sings to Ellie in the car whenever she cries. She always asks, "What about Kenzie?" And she's so determined. Recently she learned to buckle her own seatbelt, and she buckles it now and asks, "Did I do it by my big self?" so delightedly. So why do I have to remind myself by writing it, that I love her?

Let's have a little recap of our day today:
It's 3 a.m. I am dreaming about being in kindergarten. Someone keeps crying. Oh, it's real life. It's Hannah. She comes into my room accompanied by piercing sobs. "I'm scared. I'm scared."
I try to be gentle. She's scared. But she's done this every morning for the past two weeks. I'm starting to feel a little crazy.
I tuck her back in and stumble in a sleep-deprived stupor back to my bed. Just as I am shifting into the pleasant dream of my clock floating up to the ceiling, Hannah returns, crying. She does this three times. Some mornings it's been five or six times.  (And let's not even talk about the night this went on for one and a half hours, resulting in Kenzie sleeping in our bed, Hannah locked in her room, and me sleeping on the couch)

At 8:00 a.m. Hannah drags her pillow into my room and pats me lightly to wake me up. Mike is at a church meeting, so I slide over and cuddle with her for a minute.
"Let's go make some pancakes," I say.
"No! I want cereal! I want cereal," she cries.
"I'm sorry Hannah. We're having pancakes."
"I Won't!" She whines and whines. Pancakes are the end of the world, apparently.

I'm making pancakes with Kenzie. Mike's home now, and he holds Hannah for a bit, until he needs to finish something on the computer. He sets her down and more crying commences. She refuses to come to breakfast until we threaten her with no food. Ever again. I have her break up her pancake so I can put some peaches on them. Something is wrong with the way the pancake looks. Hannah throws her head back and cries. Finally she eats her breakfast and clears her plate.
While I'm cleaning up, something else happens. Hannah cries some more. Mike holds her.

Hannah cries so much these days that it's all become a fuzzy, tear-stained picture of sadness. She cries over so many things that I can't even remember details. I just know that she cries. And she's so tired, but she refuses to nap.

After Hannah and Kenzie's hair is done, there is a nice moment while they cut out paper dolls at the table. As we leave for church Hannah's shoes are hard to get on. "I can't do it! I can't do it!" This builds into sadness and more cries.

At church, after sacrament meeting, the first one hour meeting in our three-hour block, Hannah is scheduled for nursery. She's gone to nursery, a class for kids where they play with toys and eat treats, since she was 18 months old. Sometimes she fights it, but she's usually okay after a few minutes. Mike has left to get the treats that we forgot, so I walk Hannah to the nursery room.

"Hannah, remember you have two choices. You can either go to nursery and play and have fun, or you can go home and lay in your bed and take a nap. You choose."

I open the door to kids playing and laughing. Hannah begins to cry and fight. She turns from the door and runs down the hall, sobbing a little. Last week she gave me a huge scratch on my neck, clutching at me when I dropped her off. Her favorite teacher took her for a walk to calm her down. When that didn't work we took her home. Today will be the same.

I catch up to my delightful child. I set her in a chair in the lobby.
"Sit here until Dad gets back and then you're going home to your bed."  I say this calmly because I'm in church and people are looking at me.

Hannah jumps off the chair and runs away screeching and giggling. This is funny. I shouldn't laugh at her, the stinker. But it's either laugh or tears of frustration and anger (from me), and I figure laughing must be a better option. Somehow. Even though it encourages her.

I hold her squirming, half-giggling half crying form firmly in my lap. "Hannah. Stop this."

Finally Mike pulls up. Hannah begins crying in earnest. I take her hand and lead her to the car. Mike has the treats and decides to try again with her carrying them to the nursery.

While I'm sitting in Sunday School, I almost fall asleep, not because the lesson is boring, but because I feel exhausted and at the end of my rope. Mike comes in and whispers to me, "Hannah is in the nursery screaming her head off. I have to be back for a meeting. What should I do?"

I shrug. We can't torture the kind nursery volunteers. "Take her home. Put her in bed. Come back to pick me and Kenz up later."

Mike and I worry. Why is Hannah so sad? What can we do to help her be happy? Is she normal? Does she have some horrible disease?

I imagine taking Hannah to the doctor.
"What seems to be the problem?" he'll ask.
"Hannah is so sad. She cries all the time. She won't listen to me. She wakes up every night at 3. She's scared of monsters. She sucks her thumb and lays on her pillow almost all day."
"Well," he'll say. "It sounds like she's three years old."

I vaguely remember going through three with Kenzie (I think I've blocked these memories), but I'm writing this down now not to label Hannah as a terror, but to remember. I worry about my Hannah. And I know if I don't write this down and remember it, I'll go through the same thing with Ellie when she is three and life is sooooo hard. At least I think so. I hope so. This is normal, right?


Em Russ said...

ok. I have to comment. HAVE to comment. I've imagined the same conversation with my doctor about ABBY. She's always been a crier and then three years old came along... my chest is constricting at the thought of it. Sometimes I don't even notice she is crying because she does it so much I have learned to tune her out. It makes me feel bad. Anyway, I just wanted you to know you're not alone and if you figure out some way to start a three year old therapy group let me know. I'm in!!

Anonymous said...

Yes she is normal. Perhaps you should spend some one on one time with her. See if you can get her to talk about why she is so sad all the time. Maybe she is just having a hard time adjusting to the new baby in the house. Maybe she needs a night light in her room. Just something for you to think over.

Kathryn-nannygoat said...

I could have written the exact same post about my 3 year old, Campbell. He was up 3 times last night but with him it's, "my tummy hurts". It's been going on for 3 months now and his tummy only hurts when its time to go to bed... interesting. I say it all the time, "Terrible twos my foot! Terrible, terrible Threes!!" Every single one of my kids have been major stinkers at three. Campbell takes the cake though. There have been times that I've wondered if we need to have him tested for... well something. He's Crazy! Campbell wakes up crying and screaming and fighting and spends most of the day doing those 3 activities. Lately when he acts like that we take him to his room and just say, "You can come out when you are happy and can be nice to your family." He actually has to smile at us before he can come out (we had to keep taking him back to his room until he learned to stay). It has been working really well so we have been sticking to it.
Good luck with your 3 year old. When does she turn 4???? ;) Hang in there Steph... your not alone. ;)

The Spencer Family said...

I am not alone!! I worry constantly about Preston..and he just turned 4! My problem is that my oldest was not like this. I often say, "If Heavenly Father hadn't made him so cute...he'd be dead right now!" I just keep telling myself this too shall pass...but I have been saying this since he was 2 1/2???? Faith and Patience the two virtues I lack!!!

Sherrie said...

14 months to 4 1/2 years old. Yep, those are the days. Jennie's there right now, and well your "Spencer Family" friend is right, they're super cute for a reason.

Joe did the screaming, and it turned out he had autism, but really, they all scream, with or without autism.

I really like validation to calm tantrums, (learned that one from the psychologist) I've watched it work miracles. I also like joint compressions (learned that from the occupational therapist). If you want to learn more about either of them, I'd be happy to share.

One day she'll turn 4 1/2.

joyce said...

Yes, my three year old is currently KILLING me slowly...

Jessica Bringhurst said...

I'm currently going through a divore with twin 9 year old and a 10 year old. I can totally relate to everyone because that is how they are handleing it. There is so much fighting and hostility between them it's suffocating me.

Melisa said...

THANK YOu so much for this post I feel at my wits end usually when it comes to my "sweet" little Grace, so its comforting to hear that I'm not alone and that maybe its not just my bad parenting maybe its just a 3 year old phase some kids go through.

Trevor said... are a cool mom. Your thoughts remind me of my own. Not that I'm cool though.

Trevor and Liz Covington said...

I hate that I am laughing as I read this about poor 3 yr old hannanh in her own 3 yr old hell but .. it must just be the age or she and bennett should be betrothed. Can't eat a burrito because it has rice in it.. then 3 mins. later he likes rice but some burrito spills while he's eating it so the burrito is no longer edible... ? This is just a smidgen of the craziness... O and don't even get me started on the fibbing.. (mistakes as he calls them...AHHHH)

michaela said...

Total middle child syndrome! Now that I am somewhat on the other side of toddler-hood, I can see that this is a classic case of the middle child. IT is a way to get attention and to try and have some control over situations where she is otherwise helpless.
The older child gets attention for doing all the "firsts" in a family and the baby gets attention because, well, she's a baby. So, middle child has to make themselves known some how. And I know to us it seems like they are only getting negative attention so how could they WANT that? But it comes down to Mommy is focused on ME no matter the reason.
This to shall pass. And FYI i is not the "terrible twos" that is just when the "terible" STARTS not ends.