Monday, December 1, 2008

Three is a Uh.. Magic Number?

I have an incredible fondness for Schoolhouse Rocks. I find these clever educational cartoons from the 1970's focusing on grammar, multiplication, the electoral college, energy etc. to have withstood the test of time-- I loved them as a kid and I love them now. When teaching middle school language arts, I would cue up the specific part of speech we were studying and even my too-cool-for-school students would get excited, singing, "Verb:That's what's happening!" and "Interjections show excitement or emotion..." Just over a year ago, my three sons discovered our 30th Anniversary DVD of these favored Saturday morning jingles and soon became addicted. They particularly like "Interplanet Janet," "Electricity," and "Naughty Number Nine."

While I've collected no hard data to support this assertion, "Three is a Magic Number" is among many from my generation's most remembered and favored from this collection. Blind Melon covered it in the mid-90's and more recently Jack Johnson put his own spin on the song with updated lyrics about reducing, reusing, and recycling, gathering a whole new fan base for the tune. I like the song a lot, but lately I've been thinking of it in less fond terms. OK, I get the stuff about tripods, tricycles, triangles and even faith, hope and charity. However, as a person who had twins her first go-around, I never could quite relate to the verse "A man and a woman had a little baby. Yes, they did. They had three in the family. That's a magic number" since P and I immediately jumped from two to four in our family. And truthfully, that's not the part that's been bugging me these days.

I have two complaints with this three-as-magic idea lately: 1). I have a three-year-old 2). The dynamic of three boys is anything but magic in our home right now. Now, I'll be the first to celebrate the fact that F's threeness has led to the albatross of diapers being lifted thanks to his recent potty training success. Yet I am finding the other aspects of three-year-old behavior to be less celebratory: the screeching, the insistence on doing everything by himself, the general crabbiness, and grand drama when his parents say no. All of my friends who are parents agree-- it's really not the terrible twos; it's the threes that get you. I had to laugh when I saw the book title for this age range in the book series by Louise Bates Ames about children's developmental stages: Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy.

When we learned I was pregnant with F and he was a boy, we were thrilled. Even though I grew up with five sisters, I never felt the burning desire to raise a girl. Of course, we would have been perfectly content with daughters, but we got three boys--so right on. We were in the boy mode. And adding a third child to the mix in general didn't seem overwhelmingly daunting. Yes, we had to reconsider our car size to accommodate three carseats, but other than that, we felt totally outnumbered with the twins so didn't see much of a difference being literally outnumbered.

Lately though, having three boys has become more complicated. The energy, both positive and negative, can reach overwhelming levels quite quickly in our two bedroom apartment. Yet more than that, F has reached the age where he is acutely aware that his brothers are doing things that he is not, and he wants to be included--all the time. He must be included or he will shriek, and throw himself on the ground, and fuss, and make anyone in his general vicinity wish he came with a mute button. And while I can empathize with being the younger sibling wanting to do what one's older siblings can, I can't help but wonder if the twins plus a singleton complicate this dynamic even more. While S and C are certainly not always a united duo, they do tend to do much together and F clearly feels like a third wheel, left out, left behind, and boy, he'll let us know how this displeases him. We've made some adjustments to our routines to have him feel more included. For instance, even though the boys attend different schools and need to be there at different times-- technically, the twins need to arrive earlier than F-- we all now leave the house together, bringing F to school first in order to avoid an ugly morning scene (on top of the chaos of just getting out in the morning, dressed with lunchboxes in hand). Of course, there are plenty of situations where all three cannot be doing the same thing. We try and treat S and C like individuals so they don't always get the same thing. F, his own person, doesn't, can't, and frankly, shouldn't always get what his brothers do.

Our latest dilemma: C and S were asked to participate in P's divinity school's Lessons and Carols which is a big deal because they will surely be the youngest participants. They will read one of the lessons, and we were careful to split the reading right down the middle so the two have equal parts. However, as we've begun to practice for Wednesday night, F has made a louder and louder stink about his part or lack thereof. And while the older boys practice reading aloud, standing behind a makeshift podium created from two stacked ottomans, I can just picture the scene in the chapel when they get up to read and F gets left behind in the pew. Or if we just let F stand with the two of them at the lectern that evening, with all his three wiggliness-- surely the lesson would not get heard. Tonight's new idea: teach F the line, "Thus ends the lesson" so after his brothers finish their reading, he can chime in. Three's just not feeling so magical.


Jennifer said...

I think the the title of the book should be Your three year old: Frenemy?

As someone who grew up with three boys and was not part of that cluster, I feel F's pain. There's something hard about not being part of the cluster, whether it's a two or three person group.

Eventually F will catch up and then it won't be so hard, but for now it sounds pretty challenging for all involved.

Anonymous said...

I feel so for these younger ones who don't even realize how pathetic they are. I think you are right that being a younger sib of twins would be especially brutal.