Once upon a time

Dawdler Toddler Preschooler is really into fairy tales these days. This works to my advantage at bedtime since I’m particularly lazy tired and lazy. After we read 2 or 3 books, I can get her to cooperate with getting into bed and settling down by promising that I will cuddle with her and tell her a story. Even though I make up all my stories, they all MUST start with “Once upon a time…” and end with “…The end.” as all good stories should. Yesterday, she turned the tables on me and asked “Mommy? Would you like to hear a story?” This is the first time she had offered to make up a story for me. Of course I would like to hear a story.

Me: Is it about firefighters?
Her: nooooo.
Me: owls?
Her: nooooo.
Me: a baker baker?
Her: Let ME tell the story!

Sheesh. Okay. I’ll be quiet.

“Once upon a time, there was a little girl.” So far so good. “…And one morning, her mommy left for work.” Okay. “…And she was very sad…but then when her mommy came home from work, she was happy again! The end!” Uh. Cool story, hon.

I would say I don’t know what to make of that but I totally do. She’s going through something. Just what it is, I’m not sure. I would say it’s a phase where she’s not getting enough Mommy time. Because she’s crying when I leave for work every morning, pleading with me to stay “5 more minutes?” But that doesn’t explain all of it because when I pick her up every afternoon, I’m dragging a sobbing screaming defiant 3 year old out the door as she’s wailing “I sad about leaving! I don’t want to go home!!!” and stomping her feet. Every single day.

It’s gotten to the point that other parents stop and ask “Is she okay?” Or even worse, the dreaded “What’s wrong with her?” I try to understand that it just comes from a place of “awww, poor thing” concern, but really? Can we rephrase that? It usually comes from a parent whose child never acts up. So, good. Congratulations that your enlightened 3 year old is articulate to the point of being able to clearly explain the origins of their tantrums so well that you can simply use some Jedi mind trick to head off their explosive emotions. But the best I get when I try to talk to her about it is a consistent answer of “I sad about leaving. I want to stay and play with my friends.” No amount of logic or explanation or consoling has worked. I’ve tried every trick in my book: distracting her with silly jokes, timing our exit to coincide with friends’ departures, trying to make our exit a game, ignoring her attention-seeking behavior, & using a calm, soothing tone in which I offer bribes for cooperation. No matter what I do it just escalates.

But even if I knew what was going on inside her little mind, I’m not sure I would think anything was ‘wrong’ with her. She’s a very clingy, sensitive girl. She hates transitions, spending the first few minutes after we arrive somewhere or the last few minutes before we leave a place or activity crying or trying to make herself invisible. She can be very emotionally volatile. In other words, she’s THREE. It’s hard for 33 year olds to hold it together all day so I can only imagine how intensely difficult it can be to be three. Listening to grownups all day, following all kinds of rules as you try to sort out & communicate your feelings and needs…It sounds exhausting! She always has a great day at preschool so all I can figure is she uses up all of her self-control just by *being* all day. By the time we get there in the afternoon, she just doesn’t have any emotional control left. And that’s okay.

I really have no other guesses as to why she’s like this every afternoon. So until we can tease out what the root of the tantrums is, maybe I’ll just start to answer other parents’ questions with stories. I could tell them that she hates going home because of the scary clowns we invited to live with us. Or the ex-cons who babysit every night? Or how we like to watch The Ring with her for fun after dinner since it’s scary movie season? But the truth is:

Once upon a time there were parents who wished they knew how to keep their little girl from getting so heart-breakingly upset when they go to work. And who want to help their child be more cooperative with going home at the end of the day. The end!