The Impossible 3-Year-Old: 10 Years Later

The Impossible 3-Year-Old: 10 Years Later

This is an article that I wrote exactly ten years ago….

Today I had a terrible morning with my kids that made me cry and despair of my abilities as a mother….

Anyway, I thought we were doing just fine, leaving the house earlier than we have ever left – at 7:30 AM just in time for 7:45 opening time. I was proud of my decision to go to bed and wake up an hour earlier, and how that was helping me to get my kids off with so much newfound joy and efficiency.

And then, Tiferet declared that she was going to push the baby in her carriage all the way to nursery school located about a mile away. A year of wasted mornings flashed before my eyes when she said that, since when
she pushes the baby, it takes about three times longer than when I do it. I
knew I needed to take a firm stand to save my few free hours to work in the

I told her, “Great. You push until the street, and then Eema will do it.”
That worked fine until we got to the street, and I said, “Great job! Now
Eema does it so we get to nursery school on time.” And then Tiferet pulled
her sit-down-in-the-middle-of-the-sidewalk-and-not-budge-in-protest trick.

My other kids respond well to run-of-the-mill encouragements to get them
out of behavioral dead-ends and blackouts – a little sticker placed on their
shirt, a promise to write a note for their teacher about how good they had
been earlier, a cookie, a bit of active listening and a well-placed “You look
angry” work like a charm.

My other kids let me off easy, but my Tiferet’s not like that. When she
sits down and won’t move, there is absolutely nothing I can do. At first I
kept on walking and left her behind for five minutes. She just sat there.

Then I sent Dafna back with a cookie. Dafna came back without the cookie and
also without Tiferet. Then I walked back to where she sat, and felt sorry for
her, and laughed like it was all a big joke, and offered her my hand. And she
just sat there.

So I dragged her by the arm, screaming and kicking and scratching me, passing a
few mothers on the way and wondering why I am the only one who has this hard a time.

And the whole time I was praying. “God, I can’t do this without Your
help. I have no idea how to deal with this. I am at the end of my rope. Please
help me to get my little girl to walk.” I can’t say that my praying got her to
walk; she still kicked and bit me. But it did enable me to deal with her calmly,
without anger, even though I felt the anger welling up in my throat and
threatening to burst my dam. With prayer, I was able to distance myself from
how she was acting, and stay calm as I carried her.

Then I said, “Tiferet, you want to push the carriage all by yourself?” OK,
an admission of total defeat. No go. She had upped her stakes, and I had no
idea what to do. She sat down again, and then I pulled her and she screamed
some more.

Then, a block later, I heard someone calling out, “What’s the matter?” It
was Tiferet’s old babysitter, Ruti, who is one of a few surrogate
grandmothers my children thankfully have in this country (all of our relatives
live in North America). When I told Ruti what had been going on, clearly
exasperated, she knew just what to do. She ran into her house, and handed
Tiferet a whole container of candy-cake decorations. Tiferet snapped out of
her bad mood instantly, and walked along the sidewalk with a big smile on
her face as she ate her candies.

Then, of course, Dafna started crying and staged her own sit-in, because
all the candies Tiferet handed her fell on the ground first because she
couldn’t fit her fingers into the narrow bottle, so Dafna wanted to take her
own candies. Ruti’s neighbors were already looking down the street at me to
get another good look at the mother who couldn’t get her kids happily to
nursery school with a whole container of cake decorations as good mood

And I just prayed and prayed, “Hashem, just get me one more block to
nursery school. Just help me so this will all be behind me.” I took the
candies away, and told the kids that they would have to work out a solution
that they could both agree on before I would give them back the candies –
but they were both too far gone for any of my parenting book tricks. The
next few minutes are a blur. Did I give the candies back? Did I yell at them,
and they took a few more steps? I truly don’t remember.

We managed to get to the big set of steps leading down to Bezalel Street,
right across from Tiferet’s nursery school, and I was just praying and praying
that Hashem would help me to keep my cool so that I would be able to figure
out how to get my girls to walk the next fifty yards to the nursery school’s

I pushed the carriage down the steps, and an elderly Ethiopian
Jewish man who didn’t know a word of Hebrew helped me to take the
carriage down. Then, he pointed to Tiferet sitting once again at the top of
the steps, indicating that he would watch the carriage, and I could go up and
carry her down the steps. So I carried her down. I was still praying, when
Shuli, Tiferet’s teacher, walked down the stairs behind us. She whispered
something into Tiferet’s ear. Tiferet smiled and took Shuli’s hand, and they
walked off to nursery school together as if nothing had happened.

The next few blocks to Dafna’s kindergarten, I probably would have
cried if Dafna hadn’t been with me.

I felt so awful, like a total failure. How hard is it to get your three-year-
old to nursery school? And even that I can’t
do. Usually this special time walking together with Dafna is one of the
highlights of my day – she tells me about this girl who got in trouble when
she put her feet on the table during lunch, and that girl who gave out
hairclips with ribbons at her birthday party. But this morning I wasn’t in the
talking mood. I felt defeated and down, as though I had been left behind,
squished in a giant’s footprint.

After I left Dafna at kindergarten, I cried a while on the way home, felt
really, really sorry for myself, and tried to figure out why everything had been
so all-around awful when I had tried to be so good. And then I started
switching my head around, trying to think of ways in which the morning had
not been a total failure.

I thought about how prayer had enabled me to stay
calm, so that I didn’t scream at Tiferet like I probably would have a few
months ago…

And then I remembered something that Rebbetzin Talia taught us this
week. She told us that Rosh Hodesh, the first day of every Hebrew month, is a
special holiday for women because Hodesh is related to the word for renewal,
hidush, and as Jewish mothers God has given us the special ability to
constantly renew and recreate ourselves. A mother can say to herself, “I’ve
always been a grouchy, critical mother, and my kids had better get used to
it.” Or, with the power of hidush, a mother can look at her watch and say,
“Until this moment in my life I have been a grouchy, critical mother, but as
of today, March 16th at 3:45 PM, I’m starting over. From this moment on
I’m going to be a different kind of mother for my children! I need to change,
and I can change.”

That was what I thought about as I walked home today. I looked at my
watch and decided that that morning, up until that minute, 8:42 AM, I had
been a mother who was convinced that she is a hopeless failure who would
never figure out how to deal with this three-year-old she loves so much.

And I took a deep breath and prayed to Hashem that from that moment on I
would be different and that He would help me to be a confident, optimistic
mother when I go to pick up Tiferet this afternoon.

And I wiped the last tears into my cheek with my palm and felt my heart lighten, and I believed
that with Hashem’s help, it really might be true. I believed that things really
might be better that afternoon.

In general, as a mother, I have good days and not-so-good days. I have
days when I feel like my life and family are an advertisement for
motherhood, and days when I am so frustrated and discouraged that I
wonder if things will ever get easier. And on those days, I thank God for the
ability to turn to Him – so that I am no longer stuck, no longer alone, no
longer helpless. So that I can look at my watch and look towards the future –
recreating myself day after day with God’s help.

Epilogue: April 18, 2013

True JewishMOM confession here: my almost-3-year-old Tsofia drives me NUTS.

Lets try that again…Tsofia is heart-breakingly adorable, with her blond twisty hair and wide-open sky-blue eyes and bashful smile. And 95% of the day she is so cute and not such a terrible pain. The problems arise when I need to get her to do anything that requires cooperation: to get dressed in the morning, to get her to walk to nursery school, to get her to put on pajamas and go bed. This morning was a doozy….Tsofia had a tantrum over who was going to put on her underwear. She had a tantrum over who was going to open the front gate to Yoel’s cheider. And the tantrum to end all tantrums, which resulted in a 20-minute crying fest…Tsofia had wanted to hand Yoel his backpack all by herself before he entered the cheider, but Yoel had taken it on his own.

And I was reminded of this article above that I wrote TEN years ago about a similar challenging morning with my now 13-year-old daughter, Hallel (I changed her name to Tiferet at the time in order not to embarrass her). So this morning I got out the article, and read it over, and I was laughing and crying. Laughing to remember that my mature, responsible, incredibly lovely Hallel used to be such an absolute pain in the tush when she was a little girl. And crying to see how HARD it was for me when I was a young mother. How hard I was on myself. How guilty and insecure I felt. How fearful I was that things would never ever get easier…

Malky Feig writes in her book Mirrors and Windows about a panicky phone call she once received from a newly-married bride who was making her first pot of chicken soup. The young wife explained, “I put in all the ingredients, but the water is clear! How do I make the soup yellow?!”

Malky Feig answered her, “You don’t add anything to make the soup yellow. Just let the soup simmer for a few hours. It just takes time.”

And that’s how I feel about my life as a mother. I just did the math, and I figured out that over the past decade I have walked children to and home from nursery school approximately 4800 times! FORTY EIGHT HUNDRED TIMES!

And it’s still a challenge. And my 2 and 3-year-olds still drive me bonkers. But SO MUCH less than they used to…

My chicken soup gets more and more yellow year by year. Things get easier as I gain more confidence and skills and perspective because I see how quickly little tantrum-throwing children grow into big ones, so big that they can even walk and cajole their younger siblings to nursery school all on their own–and with a smile!

In other words, as time passes, motherhood, like chicken soup, grows more and more delicious. Yum, b”H.

photo credit: katybird via photopin cc


  1. Susanna Rossen

    Wow Channa Jenny, you often amaze me! You are doing a great job.
    May I ask you why do israeli Mothers use pre school so frequently. Does nobody keep their children at home or home school alltogether?
    How many youngster do you have? I really enjoy your blog and all the pep talks.

    • JewishMom

      the norm in Israel is to send kids out from the age of a year, even SAHMs like me. I cannot speak for all mothers, but personally I would get very burnt out without some time during the day to myself (and baby, who is now six months) to have some quiet and do my own thing (this blog). I know that if I’m burnt out and I suffer, my kids and husband will too. I like that when I go to pick up my daughter from gan I’m really happy to see her after a morning of getting re-energized. Though I definitely have a ton of respect for moms who manage to have their kids home all day…pretty incredible in my eyes.

  2. Beverly Kaplinsky

    Thank you so much for this! I love this blog. As a new mother and a fairly new wife, (and a brand new housewife)I find this double article familiar, inspiring and comforting. Since my Binah is still just a baby, my insecurity is more centered around being what R’ Nivin refers to as a “Coordinator of Domestic Arts”, something I am still learning how to do, almost from scratch, since I wasn’t raised in a home with a parent who took on that title in the fullest sense. I want to thank you for your articles and pep talks, and for introducing me to the chaburah, which has enhanced my life so much. I have been struggling with doubts about when, if ever my soup would yellow the way I hope it will. Thank you for reaffirming that this is just a necessary stage in that process.

  3. Shira Alt

    Chana Jenny, this should be required reading for all young mothers like myself! Your words are so encouraging and reassuring. Thank you!

  4. Rachel Espinoza

    This article is so helpful and inspiring to this mother who has a very strong-willed and often challenging but also INCREDIBLY precious two and a half year old. I am trying to constantly renew and recreate myself as his mother, finding ways to grow into the confident, positive, nurturing mother that I know he needs. B’ezras Hashem I will get closer and closer to this goal, a little bit at a time, every day.

  5. So funny, as I read the top article it didn’t sound like you! I have read your blog for over a year. The second article made sense. I loved the analogy to the chicken soup and it is so true in both the literal and metaphorical sense. I really made bad soup for years! The trick for any new housewives who are still struggling with soup, more chicken! Now I put more dark chicken parts and yes, after a few hours, great soup. A little sweet potato is also good.
    Yes, the comparison to parenting was perfect. We may not achieve the perfect soup or the perfect parenting, but it does get better with time and experience. Thanks again for your great blog, and this article was a real winner! May you have much nachas and hatzlacha in all you do.

  6. Such wonderful inspiration just in time for Shabbat
    Thank you very much
    Shabbat Shalom

  7. I think part of the trick of being a good parent is not to be afraid of the child having a tantrum. That gives them too much control of you which in the end results in a bratty child. Sounds like you got past it the right way with Hallel so I’m sure you will be matzliach with Tsofia as well I”YH.

  8. This article is my absolute favourite one from your book as it is so reassuring to me that even you have mornings like this, like the rest of us. I am still at the clear soup stage (5 and 2 year old). The epilogue is just what the doctor ordered. Thank you.
    When are you writing your next book?

  9. This article is my absolute favourite one from your book as it is so reassuring to me that even you have mornings like this, like the rest of us. I am still at the clear soup stage (5 and 2 year old). The epilogue is just what the doctor ordered. Thank you.
    When are you writing your next book?

  10. My oldest is 6 and my youngest is 2, but I feel so yellowed already! My 2 year old does not bother me at all – as opposed to when my other two girls were two and it was horrendous with loads of crying (from me).
    However, I’m now having a hard time with my older ones. I guess we all just need experience in whatever ages we’re doing for the first time.


    I’d like to know what is the best way of handling a child who sits down in the street and won’t budge. All the bribes (sticker, cookie, candies, etc.) would seem to encourage precisely that kind of behavior the next time. Don’t cooperate with Mommy and she gives you a prize, yay!

    After reading many of his parenting articles, I suspect that John Rosemond would say pick her up and go back home. Then calmly put her in her room without any toys or anything she likes and say, “When you’re ready to listen to Mommy, you can come out.”

    • yes, I too would say just pick her up. I do that all the time. Children need to know Mommy is in charge and when she says “go”, we “go”!

  12. I think you might have just saved me from the brink of despair. I found his article by chance, googling after another day where I’m at my wits end w my nearly 3 year old little girl. Having an angelic 5 year old boy only highlights her behaviour. But you have shown me a new way of thinking (towards her) and a new way to think about me. Thank you…

  13. I had to leave my kids in daycare from 3months on it broke my heart.
    With my youngest son we picked him up from daycare and he wouldn’t take a step. He was crying and my Husband noticed his leg was swollen. So off to ER he went and I was able to p/u the other kids.
    He had a spiral fracture of his upper leg. They put him in a huge cast that went from his waist to the knee on one side and from the waist to just before the toes on the other side. Oh yeah it had an opening for changing diapers. Was that hard to keep clean for 8 weeks.
    Thank HaShem and the department of Children Services for shutting the day care down within 10 hours. He had a lot of spunk and learned to crawl by pulling on toughs of carpeting. I recently saw a picture of him in that cast and thought abought how much prayer I did back then. Not knowing that without a siddur you couldj pray.

    Yes everything worked out ok and last week he became a hatan. Yeah!
    May we all learn Savlanut no matter how old your children get.

  14. You give me hope, though I do already see the “soup” of my parenting skills yellow with time. (oldest is 9 B”H)
    My mother in law gave me some great advice for a difficult day. Look where you were this time a year ago and you can imagine how much easier it will be in a year from now.
    I just discovered your blog and I’m really enjoying it. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Follow by Email