Three year olds are serious psychological mediums… and many, many other thoughts

Eight months ago I wrote about how Javi and I do transitions, the phases we go through and how we’d gotten into a rhythm, almost, with fairly predictable steps.

If you have a three year old, or just had a three year old, or will soon have a three year old, pay attention, because who we are at three is who we regress to when we’re 30 and under duress. I’m convinced. I defy you to prove otherwise.

My 3 year old has been all emotion, all the time, and boy, are those emotions HUGE. Little body, huge feelings, and whoa, does he need specific help in navigating them up and down. Today, as I danced the line between too close and not close enough, touching but not too much, not talking, not pressuring, and not allowing sensory load into his chaotic and overwhelming world, I suddenly saw myself.

It’s been quite a year. In the first half, we had a significant event requiring transition every month. Literally, every month. Three of those involved physical moves for at least one of the three of us and I’m not even counting our final move to Seattle, for any of us, since that was August, not the first six months. Rephrase: for 3/4 of the year, something significantly transitional happened to at least one of us every single month. When viewed in that light, the last quarters’ sensitivities – for all three of us – make total sense. We are re-entering the world of potential stability. Reentry is rough.

So what did I learn* today? Rephrase: what did I suddenly know today? Who he is, as a function of who I am, is someone who needs the words to go away when the emotions overwhelm. His processing – and mine – is one or the other, so when the balance shifts and the emotion takes over, words don’t help. They can’t help because we just argue them away and don’t let the emotion get processed.

When I am emotional, I can feel cornered because my usual way of relating – words – fails me. I am as emotionally overwhelmed as overwhelming, to the same level of intensity as my typical words-based** processing, and the words and emotions are fighting it out while I try to hold on for the ride, so… cat claws and retreating into my shell in panic.

Back to my son: he will run away but he needs me to stay close enough to not feel alone while far enough to not feel pressured by me. He needs NO WORDS AT ALL and for the auditory load to drop fast, super fast, but not so fast that he is left feeling the vacuum. Eye contact makes him lose it and start over. He needs the option to reach out – but he won’t – and to be touched as the feelings recede so he can relax into something. Silence and touch, time to recover, then he’s back on the path to himself. Already, at three, he is prone to embarrassment or shame or some kind of bad feeling after it happens, so he’s touchy. Still, as long as that long and careful list of things happens, he recovers completely and is better afterward. Trust, comfort, closeness, touch, forgiveness, relief.

(Side note: holy fuck. I knew it half an hour ago but putting this into words makes me realize what a Marisa Handbook this is.)

So, that. Perhaps I should print it out, box it up, and hand it to whomever is lucky enough to be his life partner as a helpful handbook. (Or hand it to my own, because wow, yea, me too.)

I’ve missed this essay format writing. –M

*Learning is a continuum for me, a spiderweb moving every closer and tighter and more intricately defined until BOOM, I suddenly KNOW. The threads interweave into the fabric of who I am, of my soul, and then I can’t un-know. I suppose I have various spiderwebs of maybe-almost-but-not-quite-knowing in various stages at any given time, but trying to picture that blows my mind. Mostly, I just have a lot of things I’m in the processing of knowing, most often facilitated by connecting, eventually to be incorporated into who I am. To be precise, then, I don’t learn anything on any given day, but I do connect or know a thing all at once. If you’ve ever given me advice and then heard from me X amount of time later as I confirm that yes, you were right, it’s not that I didn’t hear you or trust you or learn it then, it’s that it didn’t become known to me until later; I circle back to confirm that because I don’t want you to think your energy in helping me learn was wasted.

**How do you think? My ex-husband once remarked that he didn’t think in words – a serious “whoa” moment for me because what I thought was an easy request (“Just tell me what you’re thinking”) was actually really difficult for him. He had to translate his in-process thinking into words versus my just letting them out of my mouth. If you think in words like I do, letting them out is a relief and further facilitates the processing. If you think in <anything else> not so much. That I think in words also means that closing my eyes or anything other than reading (replacing my words with someone else’s words) doesn’t get me relief. Songs are all earworm risks for me. Interestingly, though, while I think in words, I remember sensorily. I can re-feel things good or bad (mostly bad) so I tend to push memories away. Hmmmm. That was an epiphany. I guard against storing by trying not to feel.

A friend thinks in pictures. Literally, he can scroll through a mental file of physical images, look at them, and put them back. He can close his eyes and stop the incoming flow, then replace it with his own images. Now that I think about this, it makes sense that he closes his eyes to speak or concentrate.

For my mom, it’s movie reels complete with sound and song. Her gravitation toward old movies that are choreographed to music – or really, anything choreographed to music – makes so much sense.


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