It was my friend’s son who defined for me exactly what it means to be three years old. One day when I was babysitting, he pushed a big dining chair up to the man-high toy cupboard, climbed up onto the chair and started pulling a heavy box out that was above his head. When I stopped him and suggested that perhaps I had better do that, he replied indignantly: “But I’m three!”
As my own son’s third birthday is mere weeks away I can see this emerging in him.
He has a little child-sized chair that has become his ticket to independence. He has discovered, for instance, that rather than asking for snacks and risking the request being denied, it is much more effective to get them from the cupboard yourself with the help of the chair and then asking permission afterwards with your mouth full of raisins.
The chair also means he can reach the sink to wash his hands, fill up his watering can and get stuck into the washing up. I have had to add some more Code Red sounds to my parenting by sound handbook, such as the clink of glasses in the sink followed by “I really careful, Mummy!”
Any time I go into the kitchen now, I find the Boy at my elbow looking to see what’s going down and saying “I help you, Mummy?” Cooking dinner, washing up, hoovering, baking cakes – you name it, he wants to be involved. In fact, he’d really rather I just let him get on with it without interfering. If I try to do stirring, or stand in front of the sink where he wants to put his chair, he screeches “No! My do it!”
Although it can get a little irritating when you’re in a hurry or doing something involving sharp knives and hot stoves, he is really very endearing and often genuinely helpful. What a wonderful age, when you can make their day by letting them fetch and carry for you and the highlight of their week is handing you pegs when you are hanging out the washing in the garden.
But his favourite thing to help with is the barbecue.
Every morning this summer, the Boy has greeted his Daddy with the words: “Daddy, make a barbecue?” When, not immediately for breakfast perhaps, but later in the day, the answer is yes, Daddy’s little helper is right there, reverently handing Daddy ‘stones’ (charcoal) to build the fire and handing him a Tupperware lid so he can ‘flap-a barbecue’.
“Careful Daddy!” he warns helpfully. “Is really hot! Stand back!”
From the moment it is lit, the Boy wants to know if we can have barbecue-food. We keep him busy by giving him items to put on the garden table, one fork at a time to stretch it out.Then finally the sausages are ready and on his plate. The Boy, however, is dancing around the garden and cannot be persuaded to sit down and eat.
“But it’s barbecue food! Look, sausages!” we exclaim, incredulous.
He gets tearful as we insist he sits down, and finally he explains: “Want-a more things carry.”
Turns out it’s not really the food he loves so much. It’s the helping.