I am convinced that the age of three is the age of contradictions. My son is, by turns, fiercely independent and stubbornly dependent. As one example:

He dresses himself. Today, he’s wearing a beige/khaki ensemble. Light tan cords, a t-shirt advertising the non-existent Cocoa Cub cocoa company, and his “racy car” shoes. This is not as blinding as some of his choices, but he does blend into the wall quite well :).

However, he’s still in diapers. We’ve discussed potty training. Folks who follow me on Twitter know that we tried a full out potty training experience the other day, with no success. He says he prefers diapers, though he wants to use the “little potty.” (We have the Cheer for Me Potty. He just doesn’t know when he’s going and no amount of coaching seems to be getting the message across. Watching him sob after accident #3 made me decide to stop and try again another day.

He wants to do everything for himself. He is putting together complicated puzzles (48-100 piece jobs) by himself. He doesn’t need any help from us except for the occasional glance at the puzzle and encouragement for how he’s doing.

He has moments where he comes unglued because he can’t find something or can’t do something. He doesn’t like to use silverware and he has issues, sometimes, with cups.

I think the biggest thing, the most stunning thing, is the need to pull away and be independent while simultaneously needing his sheepiwho, his thumb, and his little white car. The sheepiwho is a crib sheet that he somehow decided was his best friend. Sheepiwho is a girl and has very definite opinions about things. She likes to go on car rides, but has agreed that, generally, she doesn’t need to come in with us when we go places (unless there are shots involved; when there are shots involved, Sheepy comes.) Ben (and now Katie) rejected binkies (pacifiers) before he was six months old. Both prefer thumbs.

I don’t have an issue with this, and I know he’ll stop when he’s ready. We’ve already discussed that when he’s four, thumb will be limited to his room. If he needs his thumb, he’ll have to go to his room. This led to a funny exchange between Ben and P. P asked him to take his thumb out of his mouth and repeat something that he said. Ben complied, but ended with “but Daddy, I’m not four yet, so I can use my thumb here.”

The car, I’m not sure I can explain. It’s a little white matchbox car. It doesn’t look any different than a dozen other white matchbox cars he has, to me, but he sleeps with that one in his non-thumb hand all night long. He has an absolute meltdown if it can’t be found at bedtime.

This is the same kid, though, who knows the whole routine for changing his sister’s diaper and gets me all the supplies when she needs a change. He’s the one who gets her bottles back for her when she drops them, and who chases down her toys when they get too far away from her.

This is the same kid who says, “Peyton stay.” “Girls, shoo away.” and so forth with complete authority. He feeds Peyton every morning. But he also has screaming tantrums at the drop of a hat. These are no small displays. We’re talking screaming, tears, kicking. It’s unreal. He has no inhibitions about expressing his emotions. Sometimes, I envy him the ability to just let it loose, cry it out, and be done with it. Other times, I wish he could be just a little more quiet since he wakes his sister with every performance.

This is a confounding and confusing stage. He’s the living embodiment of the phrase: “little man.” In some ways, I can see the boy he’s going to become, and in others I still see the baby that he was.

My biggest concern is figuring out how to handle the raging emotions. Suggestions?