Three-year-olds get a bad rap sometimes. Granted, for good reason, they are often dramatic, defiant, loud, and unpredictable. I have survived parenting one three-year-old and I am right in the middle of parenting my second (insert deep breath). The whims of my three-year-old daughter have been known to throw the day into chaos and I often have to remind myself that this stage too will pass. However, as I reflected on some of the traits of my little girl, I started to flip my perspective and consider all the positive aspects of three. I thought of the times that I have watched her in awe and I began to wonder what my life would be like if I took on some of the positive characteristics of my three-year-old daughter.
“Mommmm!” my three-year-old daughter shouted from the backyard.
I looked out the window to see her dangling from her fingertips on the first rung of the monkey bars attached to our swing set. I shouted her name and dashed to the backyard. The smile on her face did not match the worry I felt as I envisioned broken limbs or a cracked head. I snatched her up and set her safely on the ground before I exasperatedly reminded, “You need to wait for a grown up before you do the monkey bars.”
She looked at me wide-eyed and replied, “Oh.” Then she smiled and climbed back onto the swing set, reached for the monkey bars and said, “Mom, do you want to help me with the monkey bars now?”
Fearless. Although I endlessly wish she would exercise more caution, or at least have some instinct towards self-preservation, I am also jealous of her fearlessness, her ability to throw caution to the wind and set forth on any and every adventure she desires. For me, every decision I make comes with a long list of pros and cons, as well as an attached danger meter, constantly cycling through my mind. What would my life look like, what decisions would I make, if I could quiet that part of my brain and just jump?
Tears streamed down her three-year-old cheeks so intensely that I assumed she must be hurt.
“What happened, sweetheart?” I asked, reaching for her.
She looked at me through watery eyes and flung herself into my arms. “I just needed a hug,” she sobbed.
I squeezed her tightly, imagining my love seeping into her. I held on a moment too long, causing her to start giggling.
She let go, wiped her eyes and said, “I love you, too,” and then she ran to play, leaving me with no further explanation of what caused her initial unset of tears.
I, too, am often overcome by emotion. Sometimes my emotions are justifiable; however, sometimes I am stuck in an emotion that’s cause seems unexplainable. When this happens, I often argue with myself or try to push the sad feelings away. What would my life look like if every time I was overcome with a big emotion I reached out for support, love, and comfort, even at times when the emotions don’t make sense?
“Please let me help you put your shoes on so we can get in the van!” I pleaded with my three-year-old.
“No,” she responded matter-of-factly.
I glanced at the time, calculating how long it was going to take to get her brother to his appointment. I looked into her stubborn eyes and said, “We have to leave this house in one minute or we are going to be late. You need to come with us, let’s go.”
“Mom, I can stay home BY MYSELF,” she said, with unwavering confidence.
I picked up the shoes and wrestled them onto her wiggling feet before carrying her to the van. No, three-year-old, you are not old enough to stay home alone, I thought to myself, exasperated by her defiant confidence.
What would my life look like if I lived with such self-confidence? If I made decisions that I felt in my gut were right and stood by them with unwavering conviction? Maybe sometimes I would be wrong, like my daughter who was not allowed to stay home alone, and I too would have to adapt to the required expectations. However, maybe sometimes I would be right, and my confidence could lead to a better decision, a better direction, or an opportunity that would have otherwise been missed.
“You are Chase, Mom,” she declared as she grasped the steering wheel at the playground. “I am Ryder and this is our lookout.” She started to drive, making buzzing sounds with her lips.
“Where are we going, Ryder?” I asked.
“To Mars!” she exclaimed, “Hold on Chase! 10-7-8-2-1 blastoff!”
I pretended to scream, and dramatically held on to the playground. My acting was rewarded with her adorable giggles.
She let out a long sigh and said, “We’re here. But, oh no! Look, Rubble is in trouble, he is trapped on the moon!” She squinted through pretend binoculars she formed with her hands.
Together we set forth on a mission to rescue the lost pup on Mars’ moon, Ryder leading the way.
As we walked home from the park, I could not stop smiling, my heart was full of joy. What if I found ways to use my imagination every day? Likely I would not be a pup in space, but maybe I could bring useful, creative applications of imagination in different ways. If I more frequently engaged my imagination, would I also be filled with more joy?
Although navigating the intensity of parenting a three-year-old is enough to make me feel bananas at times, there are aspects of her personality I cherish and wish I could incorporate more of in my own life. Here’s to hoping we can all find small ways to be three.
Jessica is a wife, mom, school social worker, and aspiring writer. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters.