We’ve been working on manners in our house. This might seem like a losing battle with a bunch of boys who think it’s hilarious to arm-fart while they’re covering their mouth coughing, but nobody ever said I wasn’t up for a challenge. I am the only female in a household of seven males, after all. Challenge accepted.

By far the rudest people in my house are my 3-year-old twins.

They make demands, no matter how many times we tell them we’re not demand-givers. They brutally tell the truth (“Are you having another baby, Mama?” No, little devil sweet boy, that’s just the after-pregnancy pooch. Seven months later.). They pick up words from their older brothers and try to use them in sentences that don’t make sense (“I need very literally to the potty.” What does that even mean, son?). They love the word NO, in all caps. They have their own opinions about what they think should happen, and it’s not ever what you think should happen. Never.

If you have the great privilege of living with or caring for a 3-year-old on a daily basis, you’re probably very familiar with the following:

Me: Please put your shoes on. We need to take your brothers to school.
3-year-old: NO!
Me: Yes.
3-year-old: But I too tired.
Me: Okay. You can stay here and go to bed.
3-year-old: Actually I hungry.
Me: You just ate three eggs and a two pancakes. There’s nothing left.
3-year-old: But I firsty.
Me: You can get a drink at the water fountain after we drop your brothers off.
3-year-old: But there are crayons on the floor.
Me: I’m getting tired of your buts.
3-year-old: Mama! You said butt!
Me: Just get your shoes on.
3-year-old: NO!

On and on and on it goes, until I’m carrying a screaming child out of the house at 7:15 in the morning (sorry again, neighbors) because he wanted to put his shoes on himself and I had to do it.

It’s like talking to a completely incompetent human being. Oh, wait. Silly me. It’s not like. It is. BECAUSE 3-YEAR-OLDS ARE COMPLETELY INCOMPETENT HUMAN BEINGS.

You see, 3-year-olds aren’t all that great at remembering that there are other people in the world. They don’t really want to know how else anything is done besides the way they want to do it.
Me: You have to pull the tongue of the shoe out, you see? Your shoe magically fits now.
3-year-old (starting over): No! That’s not how you do it!

They can’t really compute that not everything in the world is going to go their way.
3-year-old: I want the purple plate. [Gets the blue plate, because a purple plate doesn’t even exist. Cries for the next half hour because of a plate that doesn’t exist.]

They don’t know how to learn from their mistakes.
Me: Sit down. I don’t want you to fall.
[3-year-old remains standing and falls out of his chair, out of his brother’s chair and face first onto the hard tile floor. Console him and make sure he isn’t really hurt.]
Me: See. That wouldn’t have happened if you had been sitting down. Now get back in your seat and sit down on your bottom.
[Turn around to cut the last strawberries. Turn back around to see 3-year-old still standing in almost the exact position he was before, except this time he’s dancing on one foot.]

I’ve discovered that finding humor in the speech mess-ups my 3-year-olds make is one of the only things that keeps me from walking out on them when they’re fighting for 45 minutes about whether the exact same Lightning McQueen cars are the dark red Lightning McQueen or the light red Lightning McQueen. (The answer is neither. They’re the EXACT SAME CAR.)

So I’ve made this handy little list so I can remember and laugh and find my way back into thanks for these two 3-year-olds who fill my house with mayhem laughter.

1. Demands.

These can sound calm, like a simple, “Get me some milk” or “I need my shoes” or “I want a peach.” Or they can come from a belligerent 3-year-old who’s been taught the correct way to ask but just won’t, because 3-year-olds.

3-year-old: Get me some milk.
Me: …
3-year-old: I firsty.
Me: Nice to meet you, firsty.
3-year-old: Get me some milk, Mama. (A little louder this time)
Me: I don’t do anything for boys who demand.
3-year-old: I NEED MILK!
Me: Not when you ask like that.
3-year-old: GET ME MILK, MAMA!

I can play this game all day, because it usually happens at dinner and I’ve got my wine.

2. Buts.

I have some strong-willed 3-year-olds, and I hear a whole lot of buts.

Me: It’s time to brush your teeth.
3-year-old: But I not finished playing.
Me: I know it’s hard to quit playing. Right now it’s time to brush your teeth.
3-year-old: But we dinnent eat durnner.
Me: Yes we did. You had five pieces of pizza.
3-year-old: But we dinnent get to play.
Me: What are you doing right now?
3-year-old: But I need a drink.
Me: Go brush your teeth.
Other 3-year-old: [eats half the toothpaste while I’m occupied with his twin brother.]

There are also the buts that don’t make sense.
Me: It’s time to go upstairs, where you’re supposed to be.
3-year-old: But my cup is itchy.
Something tells me I don’t want to know what that means.

Me: Please don’t leave the door open.
3-year-old: But my eyes are tired.

Me: Don’t chew on your shoes. It’s really gross.
3-year-old: But my legs are itchy.
I wonder why. *Shudder*

3. Completely wrong words.

My twins have great vocabularies. The problem is, they haven’t really paid attention to the context in which those words are used. So their tries sound something like this:

3-year-old: I dinnent do my hisand today.
Me: You didn’t what?
3-year-old: I dinnent do my hisand today.
Me: I have no idea what you’re saying. Do we have an interpreter available?
8-year-old: He’s saying he didn’t do his highs and lows today.
Good thing there are older brothers.

3-year-old: I sweatering really bad.
Me: You’re what?
3-year-old: I sweatering really bad.
Me: You mean you’re sweating?
3-year-old: Yeah. I sweatering.
So close.

3-year-old: I have to very poo poo.
Me: …

4. Consonants are hard.

Consonants are not the friends of 3-year-olds in certain instances. Those certain instances would be words like “costume,” which will become “cossayume;” “actually,” which will become “ashaley;” and “shirt,” which will become “shit” (You’ll want to have a video camera trained on the kid who does this. You may even want to make a Christmas video with the kid saying, “Oh, shirt! Merry Christmas!” and send it to all your friends and family, which we definitely did not do. I’m just throwing out ideas here.)

For all their arguing and mispronouncing and demanding, 3-year-olds can be holy terrors truly delightful little people. I’m really glad I have two of them, and I’m not looking forward to their fourth birthday at all, because, dang, I just want them to stay 3 forever and ever and ever.

I’ll just say what all the other parents of 3-year-olds are thinking: Sometimes it’s a good thing time marches on.

This is an excerpt from Parenthood: Has Anyone Seen My Sanity?, the first book in the Crash Test Parents humor series. To get access to some all-new, never-before-published humor essays in two hilarious Crash Test Parents guides, visit the Crash Test Parents Reader Library page.