This morning, while waiting for the bus, the Grasshopper looked up at me and said, “Mommy, I think our family would be better if we were only three.”
I knew she was talking about Cricket who is three and going through a tough time. Last night, while my older daughter and I were trying to read before bed, an activity that is sacred to us, my little one shouted, shrieked, asked questions, blew raspberries, and generally did everything she could to interrupt reading time. It was frustrating for all of us, most of all for the Grasshopper who felt the deep unfairness of the situation. Why couldn’t she just have a few peaceful minutes of reading time with her mama?
This morning, though, my heart broke when I heard her words. I wanted to put the words back in her mouth, to tell her to never say such a mean thing. Instead, I took a deep breath and gave thanks for her trust in me. How hard it must have been for her to entrust that dark secret to me? I hugged her and struggled with a way to explain things to her.
This is what I told her:
Sometimes your brain has ideas on things that might be interesting to do or say. But, you know, it’s not always a good idea to do or say those things. Sometimes you look back after you make a choice and think, “I wish I had not done that.” It’s like there is a gate in there, right? That gate lets you make a choice to let some stuff out and keep some stuff in.
Three-year-olds don’t have a gate at all. They just let everything out, whether or not it is the right thing to do at the time. In a lot of ways, they can’t help it. We help them build their gate by teaching them when their behavior is appropriate and when it is not. Just like when we helped you build your gate.
You’ve got a pretty good gate right now, don’t you think? It helps you to behave in appropriate ways and make the right choices about what you say and do. Sure, sometimes stuff slips through even when you’re trying to hold it closed. Like yesterday when you did the crazy dance before bed and got in trouble for being too loud at bedtime, remember? And I will let you in on a secret. Adults have gates, too. Sometimes my gate lets the wrong thing out and I make choices that I shouldn’t make. We own our gates, and we need to keep a careful eye on when we open them to let things out and when we close them.
We will keep helping your sister build her gate, and I promise things will get better.