Le Petit is suddenly, irritatingly three and a half.
He's got a textbook case of the age, just as the weary moms who've gone before me have described. He's testing limits, pushing buttons, making loud noises. He's implementing a demonic strategy to undermine my housekeeping, grind the daily schedule to a halt, and drive both of his parents to distraction.
It's cleverly simple, involving just three principles:
1) If you can do it by yourself, refuse.
2) If you can't do it by yourself, insist.
3) If you know you're not supposed to do it, do it anyway.
Principle Number One leads me to ask him, five, six, seven times, to put on his shoes, eight, nine, ten times a day.
I say something like, "We're going to leave the house. Soon. Now. Don't you want to go to the store/park/Louvre/Versailles/Grandma's house? You do? Then shoes. [Le Petit], YOUR SHOES!"
Then, inevitably, I put his shoes on for him.
However, when someone is about to leave the house solo on some time-critical mission -- say, my husband is going to the basement for a bottle of wine to serve with dinner, or heading out to get bread before the bakery closes -- le Petit desperately wants to come along. On those occasions he rapidly crams his feet into his shoes himself, closes the velcro, and in ten seconds is ready to go.
Now, Principle Number Two has me biting my tongue, trying encourage self-sufficiency without losing my mind.
Sometimes, le Petit knows how to do something, but decides to improvise in fun ways. I try, for example, to limit collateral damage to my bathroom from I-can-do-it-all-by-myself hand washing. Le Petit knows how to turn on the water, soap up his hands, turn off the water, and dry off with a towel, but sometimes that script is too boring, and that's when he starts by locking himself in the bathroom, then proceeds to finger paint the mirror with wet hands. (I keep a screwdriver handy so I can quickly unlock the door from the outside.)
Sometimes, he doesn't yet have the knowledge, practice, coordination or physical strength to do something, and doing it himself becomes all the more urgent. Take pouring a glass of water from a nice, full plastic bottle.
Principle Number Three is the worst at the moment. That's how he'll finally succeed in undermining my sanity once and for all. The other day he disappeared into the kitchen with a crayon, then came looking for me afterward with an mischievous smile.
"Viens voir ce que j'ai fait, maman." Come see what I did! He proudly showed me where he'd scribbled all over one of the cabinets. I told him calmly that we didn't do that, that he knew that we didn't do that (as obviously he did), and then shrugged and handed him a sponge to clean up.
I feel like this behavior never stops. When I ask him to be quiet, he does everything to be louder; when I ask him to eat with a spoon, he shovels his food in his mouth with both hands. I know what he primarily wants is a reaction, so I try to make mine as firm and as boring as possible. I rely heavily on natural consequences when appropriate, taking things away that are misused, or involving him in clean up, if only symbolically. I also try to explain why something isn't possible. Against all expectations, that often works the best.
The other night, le Petit was making a break for the front door, which we'd forgotten to lock. I was trying to hold it shut, telling him that it wasn't time to go outside, that it was bedtime, that there was NO WAY I would let him out the door. He was having none of it, and was about to launch himself into a tantrum. Then I had an idea. I calmly mentioned the two kids that live down the hall, and told le Petit that they were probably sleeping and that we wouldn't want to wake them up. To my surprise, le Petit accepted that, and the story was over.
I don't know how well I'm dealing with all this. Before, le Petit often frustrated me, but it rarely felt intentional, so I was able perhaps a bit better to take it in stride. Now I know this is all age-appropriate limit testing -- not his fault, in the great scheme of things -- but man, it's wearing me down.
Any other stories of three-and-a-half? Commiseration, perhaps?