The other day, during a particularly stressful endurance test at the dinner table, Mom and Buried chided me for getting so frustrated at Detective Munch’s eating (or lack thereof) habits. She told me that I needed to step back and realize that as hard as parenting can be, it’s pretty tough to be a three-year-old too.
My inadequacy as a father notwithstanding – although I would argue that no parent should be judged by their reaction to a toddler’s dinnertime hi-jinks – that’s some bullshit right there.
You talk about what, you talk about how you don’t know anything, you can’t do anything, you can’t express yourself very well, you are someone’s property and therefore have little control over your own life, you don’t even know what “control” and “life” mean, for some reason your stuffed animals are giving you the cold shoulder, why can’t you have ice cream for every meal, there’s something warm and squishy in your diaper? I get it. Being a child is hard.
But it’s also EASY AS FUCK. Comparatively.
When you get down to it, being a kid is hard only in simple ways. It’s hard because of the circumstances (you’re a stupid child), not because of anything else (barring any extreme circumstances, obviously). The challenges a child faces (eating dinner; not getting yelled at; learning basic English; not falling in the toilet) are only challenges to a child. None of those things are difficult for long, and they are all eventually surmounted purely by the inevitable act of living.
On the other hand, being an adult is difficult in all sorts of complicated ways, and things don’t get easier via practice or simply hitting a developmental milestone. Having to make enough money to pay the bills is as hard at 40 as it was at 30, and it will still be hard at 50. Managing relationships is and always will be tricky, especially when women are involved. There are jobs and bills and health and family. There are friends and hobbies and vacations and taxes and social lives. Being an adult is a big balancing act between time and money, stress and happiness, the present and the future. Being a child is about the here and now at almost all times, and is really just soldiering through until you’re not a child anymore.
Life has its challenges at every age. And it’s the nature of self-centered existence that, being the stars of our own lives, we always think that whatever is currently happening to us is the most important thing that’s ever happened. The difference between being an adult with a hard life and being a kid with a hard life is that when you’re a kid you only THINK your life is hard (unless you live in Sunnydale). Because you don’t have a frame of reference.
So no, please don’t ask me to have sympathy for the hard times my toddler is facing. Because I will cut off both my legs to be three again. Okay, fine, I’d cut off both my legs to be seventeen again, but I’d gladly sacrifice a finger or two to go back to age three or four. I can deal with wearing a diaper and needing a car seat. Just let me have another shot at Little League and Melissa Butanowicz!
I understand Mom and Buried’s point: when I lose my temper with my three-year-old, I am being ridiculous and even borderline cruel. It’s like taunting a (really loud, really whiny) fly.
By holding a mewling, under-developed nincompoop to unreasonably high standards of behavior that, let’s face it, many of the adults I know can’t even reach, I am the one that’s behaving like a child. And I need to have some perspective, because I am an adult, and the actual child in this situation doesn’t understand, and is probably scared. He has his own struggles, and he deserves respect.
And she’s right about all that (except I made the up the respect part because not even the most sensitive parent on earth thinks that anyone who would rather pee his pants than stop playing trains for a minute and get up and use the potty deserves respect.) But she’s wrong about three-year-olds having it hard. I know everyone deserves empathy and all, but let’s not get carried away here. Hard knock life my ass.
When my kid has to choose which running back to start in his fantasy league while simultaneously arguing with his bank about an accidental double-payment and praying his boss doesn’t get upset that he needs another day off and hoping his wife doesn’t find out that there wasn’t really a work event he was just dying to see Guardians of the Galaxy and he just found out he’s out of beer? Then I’ll concede he’s got it rough.
Because those are REAL problems, kiddo. No one cares that your Play-Doh dried out.