My summer as a three-year-old

6th September 2019

Words by Laura Smith

I’d recently read that a great bonding experience with your child at bedtime was to ask them their favourite part of the day. Strangers online gushed with their experiences of how lovely and unexpected the responses were, filling parents with the reassurance that no matter how knackered they were, or that they’d served pasta again for the third day in a row, they were doing a great job. It sounded exactly what I needed, and I gave it a shot.

“What was your favourite thing that we did today?”

I laid back in my daughter’s single bed, crammed between wriggly legs and a much-too-large purple unicorn, and waited for a response that would warm my heart.

“But we didn’t do anything today!”

Ah. Right. You might have a point there, kiddo.

I mean, I thought getting two loads of washing washed, dried and folded was a pretty big achievement, but I suppose to a three-year-old that might not go down in history as a Really Great Day.

This summer has been a little different to previous ones. Not only because it’s the first year that my child is able to have lengthy conversations, making the days mostly very rewarding, but because it’s also the first summer I’ve been conscious of a ticking clock over our free time.

This time next year, we’ll be preparing to start primary school, and only a couple of months ago I was working full time and under full demand. 10pm phone calls were not a rarity, nor were 6am emails. Expectations were high, and while the work was something I loved, nothing was ever as rewarding as the tiny arms that squeezed me when I came home from a long day at the office. I decided I would only work the days that suited us as a family. No more hoping the grandparents were free for another day during the week, no more extra nursery bookings. Just me, her, and a long summer of days out, ice creams and filling my Instagram feed with a life so perfect I could authentically use #nofilter.

And then reality hit. Watching my partner leave for work the first morning of our new routine brought memories of my first babysitting job flooding back. I watched the responsible adult close the door behind them, then looked down at the small human, who in turn was looking up at me expectantly, while a surge of panic rose up in me and I realised it was just me and her for the next 8 hours.

“Daddy lets me watch TV while I eat breakfast.” Even the frickin’ line was the same as 16 years ago.

“Does he?”. I was buying time while I decided between a response of, “Well Mummy doesn’t”, or being the Fun Parent. I decided to get off on the right foot and settled down for half an hour of Dora the Explorer (I had vague intentions of teaching her Spanish so at least it wasn’t a complete fail).

After the day of doing nothing/getting miraculous amounts of washing done, I decided I needed to change my point of view. Summer wasn’t going to be fun if my aim surrounded clean clothes. I stopped looking at our weeks as me, swiftly deleted the visual recollections of an overflowing kitchen sink and toast crumbs on the floor, and started to see time as a three-year-old.

This was a revelation. I’d done it, I’d practically achieved parental enlightenment. I was going to write a book about planning your day as a three-year-old and make millions with a publishing deal Giovanna Fletcher would be jealous of.

By lunchtime the next day I was struggling. I’ll just say there were ups, there were downs, and I had a gin in my hand at 7.30pm on the dot.

The next day I tried again. Despite not being dressed yet at 10am, I let myself be pulled into a game involving a lot of roaring and stomping, while singing ‘London Bridge is falling down’.

The doorbell rang. Answering it while wearing the hood of a dinosaur costume that had become tangled in my hair wasn’t ideal, but I absolutely wasn’t prepared for my Amazon delivery to go back to the depot and see me spend tomorrow afternoon picking it up.

“Good morning. Can I ask, do you believe in the Lord, Jesus Christ?”

I glanced in the hallway mirror and sighed.

“Right now I’m a 50ft dragon stomping on London Bridge, and I believe I’m about to be tackled by a 3ft fairy princess into the Thames, aka my daughter’s bedroom rug.”

Uncertain pause. “Can I leave you a leaflet?”

I mentally added the experience to the folder in my head called, ‘Conversations you never think you’ll have’, and wondered if I’d been rude, or just brutally honest. I hadn’t really needed to mention the height difference, I’m not sure it did me any favours. Either way, I really hoped she’d been a parent.

“What did that lady want, Mummy?”

“I think she wanted me to go to church. Or at least pretend like I might.”

“Are you going to?”

“Not today, poppet.”

“Can you be a dinosaur again now?”

I won’t say greeting a Jehovah’s Witness as a dinosaur was one of my greatest achievements, but it wasn’t amongst my worst either. To my daughter, I was here, playing, and that’s all that mattered.

The weeks that followed could have been a continual test of embracing the chaos. But honestly, once my mindset shifted to what was important (time with my daughter, whatever it involved), and what was not (countless spilled drinks on the living room carpet), I realised how little I’d thought about work on my days off.

Whereas once I might have constantly been answering emails, or reviewing strategy in my sleep, now my mind was filled with plans to go to the woods, or the beach. Just not answering the door in fancy dress anymore.

And the living room carpet? We’re ripping it up next month.

Laura Smith runs Ella St Communications, a digital marketing company specialising in supporting start-ups and small businesses with female leadership. You can find her on Instagram @ellastcommunications and at www.ellastcommunications.com

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