Parenting on 3-year-old time: Smell the roses, watch the ants

On 3-year-old time, harried deadlines and time-sensitive mail fall to the delight of an ant, a rock, a flower.

AP Images for Fisher-Price/Diane Bondareff
Toddler and tots immersed in play can't always be swayed to follow an "adult timetable." New York kids got a sneak peak of the new Thomas & Friends (TM) toys from Fisher-Price featuring the TrackMaster (TM) Zip, Zoom & Logging Adventure (TM) at the hands-on, play stations aboard the historic Lehigh Valley Barge, Aug. 26, 2010, in New York's Brooklyn Bridge Park. Home in time for dinner?Good luck.

The day starts with my son asking for the empty toilet paper roll as I take it off of the holder.  I hand it to him, and he climbs up on the closed lid of the toilet and peers through one end of the cardboard tube.

"Arrgh,"  he says.  "Mommy, I a pirate!"   He bends at the knees, leaning forward in his T-shirt and Spiderman underwear while surveying the imaginary seas around us.

Three-year-olds have great imaginations, but they have no sense of time – at least not our time.  Later that morning, my pirate makes us late for an appointment by taking forever to put on his own jacket, and refusing my help.  I have learned from experience that trying to help a preschooler when they want to do something on their own will most certainly lead to a teary tantrum – and more delay.  So I take deep breaths while tapping my foot.

That afternoon, a 10-minute walk to the park turns into 30 as he stops to examine the cracks in the sidewalk, an interesting rock and a flower.  I just want to get there, but my son sees some ants and squats to get a closer look.  Knowing that he won't budge, I bend and watch the tiny creatures with him.

 The ants march on, and so do we, eventually getting to the park. After playing on the equipment, my son runs around in the grass and picks dandelions, handing me a sticky bouquet.

I notice that other families are leaving and realize with a start that it's five o'clock.  I tell him that it's time to go home. Of course, he wants to stay.  He plants his bottom on the ground, stubbornly refusing to move.  I sigh and look again at my watch, mentally reviewing the night's schedule.

My older children are at sports practice, and my husband won't be home for a while. But I need to get dinner started.  My thoughts are interrupted by my son, squealing in delight as he watches a squirrel racing up a tree.  Soon he'll be off at his own activities, I think to myself. This is the last time I'll have a three-year-old.

I decide that we can have sandwiches for dinner, and I sit down beside him on the grass.  He points out an airplane, fascinated by its twin contrails stretching across the sky, and shows me a cloud that looks like a lion.  He wants to know why the birds fly in a triangle, and we laugh as crows and squirrels gobble the goldfish crackers we throw onto the ground for them.

Not until the sun begins to sink and the air begins to cool do we start back.  He slips his small hand into mine, and we make our way slowly home, on three-year-old time.

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