When my oldest son was a baby, I couldn’t wait for him to reach the next milestone, whatever it was: I wanted him to roll over, crawl, walk, talk, play nicely, pick up his toys, do long division. Now he’s ten, and those early milestones are but a faint memory (except for the long division thing, which is daily torture).
These days, I’m finding myself struggling not to fall back into that “let’s get big already” mode of thinking when I assess my current three-year-old.
Because tweens are really great. They can make their own lunches, take snacks, ride their bikes outside without you standing there watching—even fold their laundry if you’re super lucky. You can reason with them. As in, when you’re at Target, they don’t shriek because you won’t let them out of the shopping cart. For that matter, they can actually walk nicely in Target.
They can shovel the walk after it snows. They can beat you at strategy games like Chess, or Axis and Allies; not just Candy Land and Uno. They can ask you questions about current events. Their reading level is high enough for them to choose books based on their own interests, and they might even know a thing or two about a subject that you are entirely unfamiliar with (like, say, aircraft carriers and destroyers).
It is not hard to imagine the day when I’ll be able to ask my son for real advice or assistance in his special area of expertise, and he’ll happily provide it.
Yet, I wish I had savored my son’s preschool years the same way I am enjoying his current tween phase. Ten is great, but he’ll never be three again, and that makes me feel a little…not sad, quite, but wistful, perhaps. Because three-year-olds have a lot to offer, too.
So, in an effort to slow myself down and focus on cherishing the fleeting moments I am blessed to presently share with a vivacious, spunky three-year-old girl, I’ve compiled a list of eleven great things about three-year-olds:
1. They love to cuddle.
Just for fun. Just because it seems like a good idea at the moment. Even when they were all but spitting fire at you in a frenzied rage just a moment ago because you said, “We can’t play outside when it’s zero degrees and there’s a blizzard.”
Maybe sometimes you don’t want to have a small person plop themselves onto your lap like they own the joint. Don’t worry. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself engaged in expert hostage-level negotiations just for the privilege of planting a good-night kiss on their sweet little pre-adolescent cheek!
2. They love to bask in your glow.
If cuddling isn’t an option, say, because you’re standing, they just want to keep you company. Wherever you are. Cooking, dressing, shopping, you name it. Sure, there are times when my twisty moves would impress a contortionist—necessary to avoid tripping and breaking my funny bone. Generally, though, it makes me feel all fuzzy inside when I look down from the sink where I’m washing dishes and find Princess hosting a tea party with her “babies” right between my feet. When she starts preschool in the fall, I know I’ll miss my little sidekick.
3. They think you’re beautiful.
Even when you’re having a bad day—a sleep-deprived, makeup-free, unwashed-hair day. You can see it in their eyes as they ask you thought-provoking questions regarding the color of your crocs or ancient hoodie; as you watch them blow kisses to your framed wedding photo; or when they co-opt your hairbrush, and only yours.
Please don’t tell anyone, but sometimes, it’s a nice little ego boost.
4. They don’t get irony.
Same goes for sarcasm, snark and eyeball rolling. They don’t get it and they don’t intend it. Everything is just what it is. “Mommy, there’s crumbs sticking to the bottom of my feet. We need to clean up.” Not a touch of irony!
If only I could say the same for myself.
5. They sleep twelve hours every night.
Of course, you always knew that older kids would have later bedtimes. You just never quite consciously made the connection between their bedtime and your alone-time. If having the evening to yourself was something you’ve always relished, well, just know that those nights are numbered.
Enjoy them while they last.
And that, I say without the least bit of irony.
6. They forgive you.
Maybe you were unfairly impatient with them because of other things going on in your life (like fifth grade math homework). Maybe you said “No playing outside when there’s a blizzard.” Maybe you forgot to buy more milk. Or maybe you weren’t sufficiently understanding of their distress at having to go to bed.
Whatever your failing or mistake, they will completely, one-hundred-percent forgive you from the bottom of their little hearts; no questions, no grudges. Even if you never actually apologized.
7. They’re willing to try a new food just because you’re eating it.
True, this means that you end up sharing or giving away a substantial portion of your lunch or mid-morning snack, whether it be plain yogurt with sliced vegetables and whole wheat toast or that bar of chocolate you’d secreted away. Still, the benefits, and potential to expand their young culinary palettes, cannot be overlooked.
Note to self: Wait for Dora before reaching for Godiva.
8. Cereal is the best supper ever.
I really think this is one of those things that you don’t appreciate until it’s gone, but seriously, three-year-olds love cereal, or any breakfast food for that matter, such as waffles or pancakes, for supper. It’s easy, fills ‘em up, and is fortified with vitamins. Can’t go wrong!
No way would this cut it for my ten-year-old. Ten-year-olds eat.
9. They love being read to, and will pantomime along.
Admit it: You’re secretly proud of being able to recite Goodnight, Moon by heart. Also all of the Eric Carle books. Oh, and can’t forget Olivia, and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and… Once upon a time, I was able to quote Shakespeare and Dylan Thomas. Heck, I could even recite the Rule Against Perpetuities with my eyes closed!
Now it’s Knuffle Bunny. But Knuffle Bunny is so much better. You know why? Because when Trixie cries in the story, your little sidekick fake-cries along. And when Knuffle Bunny is happily found, thank goodness, your sidekick breaks out in smiles like it’s the first time she ever heard this amazing tale.
She brings life to the words. She’s there, she’s with you. It’s a two-part chorus, and hers in an awesome little voice to have for harmony.
Which brings me to item #10.
10. When they’re happy, they sing.
They don’t realize any of this on a conscious level, of course. Three-year-olds keep it simple: When they’re happy, they sing.
I think there might be a lesson in there, somewhere.
11. Theirs is a world of infinite possibilities.
They are “outside the box” thinkers because, to them, there really is no box. When my son spoke animatedly about a “family dinner,” for example, his three-year-old sister chimed in with her thoughts of a “flying dinner.” I never even considered a flying dinner, but it sure sounds fun, if a little motion sickness-inducing.
This is the creative spark unhampered by the boundaries of reason and logic. If this spark is nurtured, the three-year-olds of today will grow to become tomorrow’s innovators, trailblazers, and pioneers.
In the meantime, I am trying to re-discover the world’s astonishing complexity and beauty through my three-year-old’s big, brown eyes—together with her.
What’s your favorite thing about three-year-olds?
More from parenting