It’s a Monday. In our household that means my 3-year-old son has preschool. It also means that for the next hour and half, my morning will be filled with trying to prepare my son for his day at school. For the last month, my son has attended preschool, two days a week for exactly two hours and 45 minutes. It’s a great school. He loves his teachers, he has friends in the class and he always greets me with the biggest smile at pick-up time.
But on school days, from the time he wakes up until his teacher has to physically remove him from my body, we will battle. He will cry about having to get out of bed. He’ll refuse to eat his breakfast. He’ll pee right in front of the potty because he knows that buys him at least 15 more minutes before he has to get in the car. He’ll cry hysterically the entire 10 minutes it takes to drive to the school and when we pull into the parking lot, he’ll act as though I’m murdering him — kicking, screaming, punching and ALL. THE. TEARS.
As I physically drag his 30-pound body into the building, down a flight of stairs and to his classroom, I can feel every eye staring at me. Staring at him. My blood is boiling; I’m sweating like I just finished a marathon and all I want to do is scream, “I promise I’m a good mom and he is a good kid.”
Because he is. My son is the sweetest, most gentle and loving little boy I’ve ever known. And I’m not just saying that because I gave birth to him. He loves with his whole being. When people around him hurt, he feels it. His current goal in life is to make everyone happy. He is the first to give you a hug (even if you are a complete stranger to him) and as long as you aren’t his baby sister, he’ll happily give you any and every toy he has if it makes you smile. He’s smart, funny, quick-witted and independent. But, he’s also my difficult child.
He didn’t talk until he was 15 months old and only started walking at 19 months old after completing physical and occupational therapy. According to his therapy team, it’s not that he couldn’t do any of those things it’s just that he simply didn’t want to. He eats the same three meals (basically carbs and air) every single day, and he has anywhere from 5-7 outfits (depending on what attitude he is in at that exact moment) that are acceptable enough for him to wear. He thrives off schedule and structure and needs to know at all times where everyone in the family is (i.e., work, school, California, etc).
Some days I’m on it, three steps ahead of him, smoothing the waters for any little disruption that might turn our good day into the worst day in the world. Other days, I’m not. I’ll think I’ve done everything I can possibly do to make sure he is content and suddenly the tag in his shirt becomes his kryptonite.
As his mother, I see how hard things are for him. I know he is trying to tell me exactly why his blanket has to lay this way and not that way, but at three, he just doesn’t have the words to communicate it to me. As a human being, I’m exhausted, burnt out and ready to quit. I don’t want to do this anymore. I constantly struggle with finding the balance between coddling him and too much tough love.
I’ve heard it all. That it will get better. That it’s just a phase. That this is normal behavior for a three-year-old. But the truth is, none of that helps. In fact, hearing it at all makes me want to punch you. Because it’s not going to get better today, it’s not a phase and no it’s not just because he’s a threenager. It is because he is a difficult child. He has so many feelings and not enough words. He doesn’t know that the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach is probably anxiety he inherited from me (sorry, kid) and he doesn’t understand that sometimes Mommy yells not because I’m mad at him but because I’m physically, mentally and emotionally tapped.
Most days are really good days. Most days I forget about all the hurdles we’ve had to jump through just to make it to bedtime in peace. But every once a while, he reminds me that raising him is a challenge, and I just remind him that I’ll never walk away from a challenge.