I think 3-year-olds are getting a bad rap lately.
You’ve seen them jokingly referred to as “threenagers,” i.e., moody, indignant teenagers in 3-year-old bodies. As a mom of a 3-year-old, I can attest that this description is absolutely true sometimes.
Yesterday, for example, my son collapsed on the floor crying five times in the span of 15 minutes (I’m not kidding), because he couldn’t put back together his LEGO airplane and would not let anyone else help him with it. And that night, he refused to go to sleep because we wouldn’t let him wear his superhero cape to bed (it’s a handmade one that ties around his neck—hello choking hazard).
So I totally get it. In fact, my first son was an even more willful 3-year-old than my current 3-year-old is, and I have gray hairs and wrinkles to prove it. His meltdowns were epic, and there was little we could do to snap him out of them. We spent many an hour standing on the sidewalk, mouths agape, watching him kick and scream and scare the neighbors.
And yet, I look back on that time with fondness. He wasn’t in school full-time yet, so we got to spend our days together doing whatever we pleased. He still thought I was a pretty cool playmate. Now he’s almost 9, and while we still have plenty of moments of closeness and joy, they are scattered across our busy lives together. His world understandably revolves about his friends and hobbies.
But my younger son and I are still lost in that world of 3-year-old wonderment. He’s my buddy. When everyone is out at school and work, I enjoy spending my days with him.
Once you get past the fist shaking and tantruming, here’s what makes 3-year-olds so wonderful and amazing:
1. 3-year-olds are sponges for learning.It’s amazing what they can pick up, and how much information fits in their little brains. My superhero-obsessed child can tell you the names of about 78 heroes and villains, along with their secret identities–each minor costume variation that occurs from show to show, and in different eras. I definitely can’t hold that kind of data in my head.
2. 3-year-olds are independent enough to be left with a babysitter or in school for a few hours (or longer) without breaking your heart in two. I find that around age 3, I can be away from my kids all day without worrying obsessively about them. But when we reunite, they still come crawling (or crashing) back into my arms for a cuddly, wet kiss-fest of a reunion.
3. 3-year-olds still think that your kisses actually make their boo-boos better. Enough said. They believe Mommy’s kisses are the cure-all for every ailment under the sun.
4. 3-year-olds love to argue, but it’s hard to take them too seriously. A lot of what they say doesn’t make a lick of sense, but it sounds so dang cute. The other night, I told my son that it was time to brush his teeth. He said, “That’s OK mom, the seltzer bubbles cleaned the goldfish off my teeth.” (Yes, he drinks seltzer: 3-year-olds also have weird taste sometimes.)
5. 3-year-olds still smell like babies. Yes, they absolutely do. Taking a whiff of my 3-year-old’s head always makes everything better. And his skin is still baby-soft.
6. 3-year-olds can still curl themselves right into your body. Their little heads fit precisely in the space between your chest and neck (perfect for sniffing their yummy heads!).
7. 3-year-olds may care strongly about what clothes they’ll wear, but they don’t care where the clothes came from. Hanna Andersson, The Gap, the thrift store, or a bag of hand-me-downs—they don’t have distinguished tastes. In fact, the more used and ratty the better. 3-year-olds are known to spend weeks in the same outfit, so no need for an extensive wardrobe either.
8. 3-year-olds are the most honest people on earth. They tell it like it is. Well, except for whether they need to poop. Then the answer is “No” every single time.
9. 3-year-old sass is annoying and ridiculous, but it doesn’t get under your skin like big kid sass does. Big kids know how to push your buttons, say the exact thing that will push you over the edge. They’re masters at it. 3-year-olds have no ill intentions whatsoever. They just want the damn cookie.
10. 3-year-olds have incredible capacities for imaginative play. They still believe in magic. When they put on a costume, they think they’ve actually turned into whomever it is they are dressing up as. In fact, when my older son wore his Peter Pan costume, he was Peter Pan, and if you called him by his real name, he sternly corrected you. You gotta love the power of a 3-year-old’s elaborate imagination.
To me, 3-year-olds are the perfect combination of baby and little kid. I know all ages have their virtues (and hell raising struggles), but 3 might be my favorite age of all. In fact, I am doing everything in my power to stop time and make sure my sweet, curious, delicious 3-year-old never grows up. Anybody with me?