All Cute Little Babies Turn Three (Or: Considering Making a Human? Read This First)

Just around the time my middle son turned five and morphed into a loving, funny little human capable of logic and reasoning, my youngest turned three.

I should have seen this coming – the “threenage” years. I should have prepared myself for the onslaught of destruction and nastiness and upheaval that comes with the threes.

Come on, Harrison! Get your head in the game. Ear plugs. Fresh tennies. Rubber gloves, stat! 

Despite that this is my third round of threes, I’m finding myself caught off guard by the behavior of a boy who, six months ago, wanted to snuggle in the recliner and play doggies and please his adoring momma.

Take last Friday — I surprised the boys in the middle of the day with a rare trip to the movie theater. They cheered in delight when I announced that we were meeting Grandma to see Finding Dory and sent them to find their shoes.

I let out the dog in the backyard, grabbed our sweatshirts because the theater is always FRIGID, and walked out the front door to get in the car.

The smell hit me first. Dog poop. The fresh variety.

I looked at the Threenager’s feet. I looked up and down the front walk. Poop, poop everywhere.

I’d naively thought he was getting buckled into his car seat, but alas, he was stomping in dog poop and running up and down the sidewalk threatening to rub it on his shrieking brothers.

I knew in the moment that I could call the whole thing off, but I felt bad punishing the other two because of one insane three-year-old. I have a terrible time coming up with logical consequences on the spot, but I thought fast and told Threenager that he would not be getting a kid combo (popcorn, candy treat, and soda) at the movie, and was only allowed to share Mom’s popcorn. This was a pretty big bummer to him because the theater is the only place he’s allowed to drink soda.

He pouted at the concession counter, but did okay in the movie. He spilled the popcorn by accident (I can do it myself), ripped his water cup lid by accident (I can do it myself), and squirmed around until he got his leg stuck in the depths of the flip-up chair (Mom, I’m tuck! I’m tuck!)

On the way home, the teasing/provoking/screaming between the Threenager and his brother was so loud I stopped the car and told them we weren’t moving again until they were done, then I hoped we wouldn’t be sitting there all day because I really had to pee.

At home, the older two went to play at a neighbor’s house, and I thought some one-on-one time might miraculously cure Threenager of his condition put Threenager in a better mood, so we did a puzzle and brought out Hungry Hungry Hippos. I tried playing by his rules, but after half a game he wanted to play alone so his orange hippo could eat ALL the marbles.

I suggested we go out to the trampoline, and he said yes, but he wanted to jump all by himself. I said okay, and tried to think of some way to make him like me again positively engage him. I sat on the edge of the sandbox narrating his moves for a half-hour straight: The Jump and Thump! The Boompa-Dropper! The Butt-Shake Boogie! You would not believe the mental effort I put into coming up with new material for his ninja-like maneuvers.

I admit, I was feeling pretty good about the smiles I produced. Then Threenager asked for a drink, so I went in to find his cup, but instead found that he had poured out the rest of his brother’s milk from lunch all over the dining room table and rug. I thought it was an accident until I noticed the cup was standing, not tipped over, so I’m thinking it was more of a fun physics experiment.

That evening, as we got ready for bed, Threenager kept running to the stairs and chucking down shoes, toys, and rolled-up sleeping bags.

When the tearful five-year-old was late to the bath because he couldn’t find his favorite frog toy, Threenager taunted “You’re gonna miss the baaa-aaath, you’re gonna miss the baaa-aaath!”

After tucking the boys into bed and threatening them to stay there kissing them goodnight, my husband and I CRASHED onto the couch with terror in our eyes. The dialogue went something like this:

Me: What are we gonna DO?”

Chad: I don’t know — he has been straight-up MEAN. He punches Reed and smiles about it! He kicks Scout (the dog) just for fun! Do you think something’s wrong with him?

Stacy: No! I think he’s three with two older brothers and the dog is the only creature he can dominate. Remember how awful Reed was at three? How he would destroy Gray’s artwork just to get a reaction? Remember when he colored that trail of Sharpie up the stairs and all over the white dresser?

Chad:  Or threw potting soil from the Ficus tree on the dining room floor three times a week?

Stacy: Or climbed the baker’s rack and sent the frames and potted plant crashing to the ground?

Chad: Gray was never like that, was he?

Stacy: Not mean, but I honestly remember discussing whether or not we thought something might be wrong with him because he said EVERY. SINGLE. THING. in that whiny voice!


This is where I want to tell you we came up with some great solution for how to handle this next year, but we basically curled up into balls and trembled in terror of the future.


They are insane, guys. They are desperate to gain power over their worlds. They work hard to get reactions from others by being loud and mean and straight-up ridiculous.

I know it’s crazy difficult as parents not to take this personally, but I swear to you, this is my third round of threes and IT IS A PHASE.

About the only things you can resolve to do are not string your threenager up by his or her toes, store things like breakables and Sharpies in a fireproof vault in a neighboring state for the next year, and be really prompt about cleaning up dog poop.

No, really though, as helpless as you feel, the threes are rife with opportunities to teach your kid and anyone else who might be watching about grace.

You may scream at me, but I’m not going to scream back.

You may break my stuff, but I won’t break yours.

You may throw a crying tantrum, but I’m not going to cry back.

Well, not in front of you, anyway.

Have a three-year-old now or remember it all too well? You know I wanna hear your stories.

Have a sweet newborn baby or toddler? I suggest accounting for glass objects, thumb tacks, permanent markers, and nail polish now. Leave no couch cushion unturned.

Read more Personal Essay here –>

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