I Wish My Son Could Be 3 All Over Again

jasper & mamaPicking a favorite year of your child's life is almost like picking a favorite child -- impossible. Each is unique, mostly in wonderful ways. But if I had to pick one especially memorable year of my son's life, it would have to be when he was 3. They say you're supposed to be your child's parent, not their friend. I agree. But there was something special about our relationship at that age. We were companions on adventures around the city.

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At 3 my son emerged from the needy toddler years and became more social, more of a participant in the world. This was especially exciting for me since I'm raising my son in New York City. At great financial sacrifice I'd taken a few years off from my career to spend more time with my little boy. He was in preschool a couple days a week, and the rest of the time it was just the two of us, exploring everything we could.

One of our favorite destinations was the American Museum of Natural History. I bought a membership so we could go there at least once every week. The museum isn't exactly built for 3-year-olds, but you'd be surprised how engaging it can be for them. We learned all about black holes, drawing pictures and diagrams on the way home. We gaped at the color and brilliance of gems and minerals. We marveled at the tremendous forces at work under the surface of our planet. We stared up at dinosaur bones. Both of us found out what gamma rays are. To this day, watching the Meryl Streep-narrated film on the Ornithischian Cladogram (a diagram organizing Earth's living creatures, past and present) fills me with the kind of nostalgia other parents get when they hear the theme song to Thomas the Tank Engine. I was raising a nerd, and it made us happy.

When we weren't at the museum, we were often either in Central Park or Prospect Park, hunting for pieces of broken glass. Like sea glass, city glass is usually dull but irresistible. Obviously I had to supervise our hunts very closely, but my son was obsessed. We kept a jar of the glass at home -- I think we still have it somewhere. I hope so.

Or we were at the zoo -- a noisy, busy place in the morning when school groups took tours, but a place we had all to ourselves most afternoons. Sometimes in the winter we were the only people there, and still, the Prospect Park Zoo staff would work the sea lions through their daily performance for an audience of two. We always clapped.

On warmer days we would head south, to the Brooklyn Aquarium at Coney Island. My son was terrified of the jellyfish exhibit there, much to my frustration. But of course there were hundreds of other fish and sea creatures to see, and we were both captivated by the model of the Bathysphere, an early diving tank. Then we would come home, put on black t-shirts and yoga pants, and pretend to be deep sea divers.

Thank goodness I kept a blog then, documenting all the sights and feelings of the time. Here's something I wrote after describing our deep sea diver game: "This game is all my son's idea. It's so exciting to see what fascinates him, what captures his imagination, and where he wants to go. I'm going with him for as long as he'll have me."

Do you have a favorite year of your child's life?

  

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