On a wild tear

A rare peaceable moment.

I don’t know if it’s the weather or a growth/development spurt, or what, but Silas has been … unsettled, lately. He doesn’t focus on things as well as usual. He is picking fights, with Petra, his friends, us, the dog. He complains of being bored (not sure where he learned that word, as it’s not one we have much call for around here). He dumps out a box of toys and then walks away and doesn’t play with it. And then, today, he tore a beautiful book to shreds.

You’ll read this and say, well, stupid, he’s three. And I know that. But this is not normal for him, not at all, and he doesn’t seem to be enjoying it. He’s just in an ornery and destructive mode lately. I wish I knew why, or what could break him out of it. We do the usual things, maintain the boundaries, promise love even when we are pissed off, and hope that he’ll grow through it fast.

It makes a big impression on him when we punish him, perhaps because we don’t have to do too much of it. Yesterday, he started talking about how I yelled at him last summer for throwing his paint brushes off of the porch and into the bushes (he conveniently forgot the part of the story about how he then, immediately, cried and fussed until I climbed over the porch rail and got them. At eight months pregnant.). He brought it up because he remembered how mad I was. He holds onto these moments, and I try to ensure that there aren’t many of them. I’m not a pushover, but I’m also not a screamer or a time-out-giver.

He got both a timeout and some yelling today. And he’s also limited to baby books for quite some time, and no library checkouts. This is about as serious as punishment gets around here, and it’s probably been a year since we last had to do this, with the books. I feel awful about it, as well as bored at the mere thought of reading only board books for several days, but it is what it is.

I remember some of my friends telling me that, with their kids, three was worse than two. I wonder if this is what they were talking about.

I’ve been thinking, too, about something I read in one of Maria Montessori’s books (can’t remember which one), where she puts forth the theory that children’s “misbehavior” is really them expressing some deep-seated need. She gives the example of the kid who is constantly in trouble for playing with his mother’s perfume bottle, which has an intriguing stopper. When she creates a work that lets the kid practice this in-and-out motion of putting a stopper in a bottle, he stops messing with mom’s perfume. Montessori also insists on the idea that children have a natural sense of order. Sometimes I wonder how much I believe about this–I think she’s about 90% right, but I also think (based, even, on my own memories of my childhood) that sometimes kids just destroy things because it’s a thing to do. I think kids have a compulsion toward chaos that overrides whatever natural sense of order they have. I’ve tried offering Silas acceptable things to meet whatever need is happening here–scrap paper to tear, freedom to dump out whatever he needs to with gentle reminders to put it back when he looks done. It’s not working, at all. Not a bit.

Often, when he is out of sorts, it’s because he’s on the verge of some tremendous leap, developmentally. As is always the case with Silas, he’ll probably wait until I seriously don’t know how I will survive another day, and then wake up transformed. I just have to remind myself of all the other times this has happened, and comfort myself with the anticipation of whatever new skill his brain is busy developing (by making a mess and driving us all crazy).


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  1. […] then (that afternoon!) he wantonly tore up a really beautiful book, and I had to put all of his “big boy” books away for a week. He […]

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