My son, Drew, is approaching his 3rd birthday this spring, and my husband and I are constantly amazed at what he’s able to do at this age. And we are finding that in the midst of this incredible growth of knowledge and abilities, we are walking a precarious balance beam of trying not to overestimate his abilities or underestimate them either.
At no time was this balancing act more apparent to me than on what proved to be quite a memorable walk yesterday morning. Each morning, I try to get my son and our big yellow Labrador retriever out of the house, leashed up, strapped into the stroller and down to the playground. The park we go to is a good distance from our house, but it’s in our neighborhood, so the streets are safe and there’s relatively low traffic. We enjoy the time together, I need the waistline management, and my son gets to run off some energy on ladders, slides and swings before we turn around and head back home. On a good day, our walk takes just under an hour.
Yesterday, my son was feeling pretty energetic and confident, so he asked if he could ride his “motorcycle” (a big tricycle, really) instead of riding in the stroller. He’s been riding the bike for months now and is proficient on our “around-the-block” walks. Not wanting to deflate his big-boy ego, I said it would be fine for him to ride his bike, as long as he understood that he would have to ride it all the way to the park and all the way home – the bike was WAY too heavy for mommy to carry. With a confident “Yes, I can do it!” from my precocious toddler, the three of us headed down the street.
Our trip to the park was uneventful. We made it there in twenty minutes, and Andrew enjoyed another good twenty minutes on the playground while the dog and I looked on. When playtime ended, we began our journey home.
This is where I overestimated the physical ability of my 3 year old boy. About 20 steps into our walk home, Drew decided that he’d had enough exercise. And, being a typical toddler, he concurrently decided that he’d had enough of everything in his life. Enough of mommy, enough of his dog, enough of the sidewalk, the tricycle, the sunshine. And he just gave up and began to cry.
“Don’t panic,” I thought to myself. “Just reason with him, get him on the tricycle, and get home one step at a time.”
“Andrew,” I reasoned in a calm voice, “Remember how you promised mommy that you would ride your motorcycle all the way to the park and ALL the way back home?”
His tears got bigger and his sobs got louder.
“Seriously, son. I cannot carry you, pull your bike and hold onto the dog’s leash all at the same time. Just walk a few steps for mommy.”
“NO. MOMMY! DON’T WALK! HOLD ME,” he choked out between sobs.
“O.K.” I complied. I reached down, scooped him up, dropped the dog’s leash and grabbed the handle bars of the tricycle to pull it.
“NO MOMMY! DON’T TOUCH MY MOTORCYCLE. I WANT TO RIDE IT.”
“NO MOMMY! DON’T PUT ME DOWN, I WANT YOU TO CARRY ME!”
“NO MOMMY! DON’T WALK LIKE THAT!”
“NO MOMMY! DON’T LEAVE ME HERE!”
An all-out tantrum had come over him, and I was left wondering how everything had spun out of control so fast. My calm had vanished and the panic was setting in. Not only was I concerned about the volume of my child’s cries (I was pretty sure that I saw several of my neighbors peek out their windows to see what was going on), but I had a very real logistical problem. I began adding up the weight of my 115 lb dog, my 35 lb toddler, the 50 lb heavy-duty “TRIKESTER” tricycle, and it wasn’t adding up to anything manageable for me.
I decided to tune out the tantrum (and the curious onlookers) and focus on physically getting us home. Several ill-conceived ideas were tested over the next 20 minutes. Feeling more like Macgyver than mommy, I unhooked the leash from the dog and tied it to the bike, commanded “HEEL” in my most authoritative voice (hoping that either the dog or the kid might listen and obey) and began pulling the bike and coaxing the other two. “Come on guys! Let’s go home, you can do it!” Neither responded as I'd hoped.
Next, I tied one end of the leash to the dog, the other end to the bike, held on to the middle of the leash and scooped up my unraveling son. That worked well for a while, until we came to a downhill slope in the sidewalk and the bike picked up speed. Unable to keep up the pace, the rest of us got tangled up quickly and the idea was abandoned.
I tried another tactic, setting small goals that could be easily achieved. “Andrew, we’re just going to walk to the stop sign. That’s it! We’ll stop when we get there, o.k.?” Since his reasoning skills apparently had not yet returned to his mind, he didn't embrace this idea either.
In my not-so-finest hour, I next resorted to threats. “Son, you are going straight to time-out when we get home. This behavior is unacceptable. I’m calling daddy and you’re going to have to talk to him.” On and on it went, only making both of us more frustrated. By this point, my child was mad at the whole world, yelling at the birds to quit chirping, the cars to quit driving by, the dog to quit walking and for me to STOP LOOKING at him.
Eventually, I’d had enough and had tried every other option, so I just sat down on the sidewalk with my sobbing mess of a son, pulled him into my lap and began to pray. I prayed that he would settle down, that God would send someone to help us, that my husband might happen to just drive by and rescue us, whatever the Lord saw fit in the situation, I was open to it. Then I sang a few songs and rocked my baby in my lap. For a while, it worked like a dream. Andrew calmed down, closed his eyes, and didn’t make a peep. The sobs stopped, he snuggled in, and the dog seemed content to take a rest, too. As cars drove by our little pooped-out party, I just smiled and kept singing and rocking. After about 10 minutes, I even convinced all of us that we could try to make it “just another block” towards home. And things did go well for about a block. Unfortunately, we were still way too far from home for it all to last. The tears returned, their intensity magnified by the heat of the rising morning sun.
But my prayers were eventually answered - we did end up getting rescued by some wonderful neighbor kids who love my son and my dog. As we approached them, their mother took one look at us and seemed to just “know” what was going on. After a brief stop at their house to regroup, I set back out on the final leg of our journey. This time, though, my son had an ice-cold juice box in his hands and I had two wonderful assistants in tow. My neighbor’s son was riding the trike home as a modified scooter/skateboard, her daughter was in charge of our dog, and I was able to focus on just carrying my boy. Two hours and fifteen minutes after our leisurely morning walk began, we mercifully arrived home, sweaty, sore and exhausted.
And this is where I underestimated the abilities of my toddler. Once we arrived on our doorstep, he was a new kid. Refreshed by his juice box and rested after being carried the majority of the way home, he walked into the kitchen and began opening the pantry cabinets and doors. “Mommy!” he called out brightly, “I want some candy!”
“Ha!” I laughed. “Don’t even THINK for a minute…” I began to say, as I relived the past several hours of torture. He walked around the corner to where I was standing, looked me straight in the eye, and cut me off mid-sentence. With big, blue, sincere eyes, he said, “Mommy. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that I cried on our walk.” I knelt down so that we were eye-to-eye, not quite sure what I was going to say in response yet. That’s when he leveled his final blow. “Mommy, I love ya!” he said, as he wrapped his big boy arms around my neck in a ferocious hug.
He knew just what to say and how to say it. And in that moment I marveled at both the abilities and inabilities of my child. In one moment, he is too small, too weak to handle this great big world – and I’m at fault if I try to place more on him than his little body and mind can handle. And in the next instant, I realized that it’s just as great a mistake to ever underestimate his power to relate, empathize and respond appropriately to the world around him.
So, we’ll keep practicing (and praying!), keep climbing up on that balance beam, watching closely that we don’t start leaning too far to either side. And I am confident that we’ll find our balance – and we’ll be stronger when we get to the other side!