This post is the third in the series "This Is Childhood," which captures moments in our children's lives, from age 1 to 10.
I was slow to motherhood. Painfully slow.
To be perfectly honest, I was scared of my first baby, Sam. I convinced my husband to change all the diapers at the hospital. I didn't do the first few sponge baths at home. My willingness and desire to nurse him for close to a year was the crowning achievement of my first year as a mother. That I announced Sam's status as a breastfed child whenever possible said more about my insecurities in every other department than any feelings I had about "breast is best."
When Sam grew out of the drooling, sleepy infant stage, I needed (or thought I needed) parenting books to figure out how to do basic things, like play with him. I followed specific directions like when to introduce hide-and-seek and how to encourage the block-stacking stage. To master the nap routine, I read Dr. Marc Weissbluth's well-known sleep tome Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child cover to cover. Twice.
The next task was introducing solid foods. Would Sam choke? Suffer an allergic reaction? Were the containers and cups in our house made from the good or the bad plastic? Was the food sufficiently organic? Every night that Sam went to bed unharmed, I felt that I had achieved something worthy of medals and a parade. The anxiety, however, would begin again the next morning. I was something of a wreck, to put it mildly, during Sam's first year and even through his second.
Then Sam turned 3, and I hit my stride. I felt that the missing piece of my parenting know-how, the ability to trust my instincts, had finally developed.
Parents and kids survive the "terrible twos," which are not so much terrible as frustrating for kids. At 2, kids can sort of talk, sort of run, sort of catch and throw, sort of eat without making a disaster of their chairs and clothing. At 2, kids are giant toddlers, really. But 3 is serious business. Three is a child you can talk to in detail about train engines and why pirates say arg. (Sam, 8 now, was 3 when Captain Feathersword of "The Wiggles" was all the rage.)
Three is climbing, dancing and understanding the rules of a game. It's the "I do it myself" age. Or, as all of my children have said at 3, I do it myTHELF. Three is precise coordination and independence one minute, then falling off a chair and demanding a bandage the next. Three is questions, curiosity and remembering all the words to books and songs. It's friendships, deep connections to grandparents and cousins, confidence and the beginning of competence. It was those last two things for me as a mom. That's for sure.
You'll be relieved to know that with my second, third and fourth babies, I had experience, therefore, much less anxiety about the physical aspects of parenting. I actually learned to love the baby stage. (Notwithstanding the year of no sleep.) Nevertheless, the age of 3 is a favorite. It was true for Rebecca. It's been true with Elissa, who's 3 for another two months and seems to live in a princess costume. And I can't wait to see the magic that sweet 1-year-old Nate, desperate these days to keep up with his siblings, will bring to our house when his turn at 3 arrives.
This post originally appeared on Nina Badzin's blog. Stay tuned for "This Is Childhood" pieces by Galit Breen, Allison Slater Tate, Bethany Meyer, Tracy Morrison, Amanda Magee, Denise Ullem and Lindsey Mead.