Three, a first study of

24 02 2016

Three is a magic number; scholars and scientists have known this since they were inseparable from storytellers and witch-doctors (or at least since before other people felt the need to start dividing the implied-serious from whatever was loved yesterday and thus needs scoffing at). It’s the three-fold face of God or the Goddess, the three-fold rule of energy return, the three fates and their map of life, the number of legs a table needs to stand, the number of points needed to locate a source–it’s the principle number of repetitions in any good tale, divisions in any good story-arc: how many little pigs it took to outsmart the wolf, how many kittens lost their mittens, how many blind mice ran around in dark sunglasses, whacking things with sticks. It’s also (in addition to the literally thousands of other list-items I could go on with here, having made already a point that never needed making anyway, because it’s so ingrained that everyone already knows) how many installments validate a movie-franchise (all hail the holy trilogy), and how many dragon eggs were hatched by the last Targaryen.


No Targaryens here, but we have a frequent occurrence of tigers.

On TV, in the general cultural impression that I absorbed growing up, without a big family & thus without consistent (or much of any) exposure to little kids to better inform me, was that three was LITTLE. Three year olds were BABY kids. They didn’t even speak in sentences most of the time, the only music they knew was the nursery songs we steeped them in or whatever inappropriate lyrics they’d eavesdropped on from the radio, hilariously mispronounced. Caleb was shatteringly articulate, thoughtful, and curious when he was three, but everyone who ever met him remarked on his exceptionalism, so we had no real revision there to this general point of misdirection. We know better now. Forget sentences: three is paragraphs, fluidly ranging from literal to fantastical, hyperbolic to bluntly counter-factual, hypothesis-trying to just plain silly. Don’t forget nursery songs–three loves to watch these, in cartoon interpretation on our old iPhone, and she knows many more of them, lyrics, melodies, and all, than either of us–but forget their implication of a tiny fenced border for a musical arena.

Laughing comes easily when the world is arrayed for you, arms open wide.  Here: “bowling” at her brother’s 8th birthday party.

Three, also like her brother before her, enjoys her father’s Spotify collection (it was still mix-CDs in his day), singing merrily along to Smallpools, Truslow, Ed Sheeran, and Walk the Moon; unlike her brother (perhaps only because it never occurred to us to chase any of his musical attachments so concretely), she has also started her own pop music collection, and can often be found these days dancing and singing to Rhianna in the living room, playing the CD Santa brought her, which she’s already broken one bay of the multi-disk changer by starting over so often. And by “dancing and singing,” I don’t mean the baby-bop, arm-flap, knee-bend dancing her sister employs, I mean rhythm-conscious, move-copying, hip-popping, over-the-shoulder-hair-tossing, up-on-one-foot-toe-pointing dancing (more the kind her brother models), repeating, eyes closed, the word strings that haunt her (shadows chase me far from home). Sometimes she just listens, curled under a blanket on the couch, studying the pictures in the liner-notes because she can’t yet read the words.

Three’s long, wet tresses, replacing her baby-mohawk forever to trail down her back like a real girl’s hair, or a mermaid’s

We used to call her brother a “threenager” because of his eruption out of a sugar-sweet toddlerhood into a world of sass, but I see now that the term was coined to encompass much more territory-overlap than that. Three is embracing the emotion in music and tale–she gets sad about the stories she’s enjoying, wants a hug, tears up a bit about it, and then wants the sad part again. Three is starting to test out the sensation of nostalgia, using phrases like “when I was little, we used to…” and telling me she doesn’t want to give away the outgrown baby things Tabba can’t use anymore, and she wants her old car seat back, not to move up a size to the new one. Three is starting to recognize the march of time, and is digging in her tiny heels, insisting on a Moibus strip model: “when I get big and Caleb is little,” she’ll say, “then he can have the car seat and I can sit in the middle.” Three pins too-few data-points together using logic to the ends of her own pseudoscience, suggesting that we could use tape to put her sister’s fingers back together if she cut them off by slamming them in the door (an ever-realer danger around here, as three is prone to fits of rage that, unsurprisingly in this house, lead to door-slamming) the same way we use it to put torn pages back together in a book.

Love is tactile when you’re small.  Here, the ridges of a fingerprint caught on the wet-meets-dry edge of a tiny, pouty lip.

Three also loves ferociously, throwing her arms around my neck when I tell her I have to get up to go do whatever is needing doing (“No! I won’t let you. I will NEVER let you go”), melting into a puddle of woe when her brother leaves for school Sunday evenings and screaming with high-pitched joy at his Friday evening returns, bursting into tears and throwing herself at her sister when I explain that there is no tape for fixing fingers, and if slammed off, her sister’s would be gone forever (“You were just joking,” she wailed desperately when confronted with this fact. “You were just joking that they would be gone forever. Weren’t you just joking?!”).
Three is developing a sarcastic, quick sense of humour. The other day, when from our angle in the living room we saw her babysitter appear in the doorway, then disappear to shut the outside door behind her, before she could reappear to come in and play, Evanny quipped “well, that was short.” A few evenings later, teasing her about being up past her bedtime, Matt said to/asked her “…and you haven’t peed in God knows when–when did you last pee? Before breakfast?” “God knows when!” she chirped immediately, giggling.

Merry leaf-chasing on a sunny Fall day, my little fire-haired girl glories in the season of her birth

We’ve also started hearing phrases like “you guys are old,” and “Mom. I’m not ‘sweetheart,’ I’m Luke Skywalker!” Three, her burgeoning love for Star Wars chronicled elsewhere, doesn’t just admire the fandom because the family does; she has a serious crush on Luke Skywalker, one so intense that when I pick up a library book with his face on the cover, she has to walk a lap, flapping her hands a bit, around the kids’ tables before she can sit down to listen, and when I add him to her bedtime stories, I can see her smile bloom in the darkness. That isn’t to say he’s all she loves: sometimes she’s Anakin and I’m his mother, sometimes Princess Leia to my “Dark” Vader; sometimes her sister is charged to be R2-D2 and I’m Han Solo, sometimes I’m Luke or Leia, sometimes one of us is Chewie and sometimes the stuffed Chewie will do.

Trying out Rey’s hair, since Three has neither hair enough nor patience to pull off Leia, and Mummy said wait til the impulse fades when she suggested cutting it off so she could more believably be Luke

Two was more grounded, with nightmares about fights with her brother or friends, but three, whose imagination has taken flight, has bad dreams about monsters now: some kind of bug that flew into her mouth and mine and stung us both last night, and last week “the Star Wars dinosaur” (which her dad translated as the Rancor). Three still naps, going through phases of fighting the process and phases of relieved mid-day surrender; when she wakes she’s sometimes clingy and desperate for a cuddle and sometimes just a quick kiss on her way to go command a babysitter into her games of let’s pretend.

Curled up for a bedtime snuggle, there’s still a baby-softness to these eyes

Bedtime is sometimes a quick and quiet tuck-in, send off and sometimes a long, drawn out game of room-door ping-pong, both presided after most of the time by her dad, since I’m still nursing her sister to sleep at night. I miss the bedtime storytelling I got to do with two, when baby bedtime was more erratic, and I think three does too–that’s my guess for why she’s in our bed, beside/on top of me for at least the last hour or two of every night these days and sometimes a whole handful of other hours too. Sometimes I put her back to bed, and sometimes I don’t. Matt doesn’t remember Caleb having a phase of doing exactly this, but I do (it was either a long phase or later, because it overlapped with having a tiny Evanny to nurse in the morning bed), and part of what strikes me about that memory is the behavior’s absence now–at 8, not only does he not come in often anymore (I think I’ve responded to a bad dream call from him thrice in the past two years), but he usually sleeps past everyone else getting fed up with lolling in bed and going foraging for breakfast and second coffees, missing morning snuggle hour altogether, and soon enough, she won’t come either, and I may never again wake up crushed lovingly beneath the wide-flung reach of those long, cool arms, the curled seashell of a smooth hand resting on my sleeping cheek.

Three–just like two and the very tail end of one–LOVES being a big sister, but it’s starting to get fun in all sorts of concrete ways these days. They can talk to each other now, negotiate at play, lead and follow. Three delights in all of these things, coming into the kitchen yesterday with Tab’s arms pulled tight over her taller shoulders, the little feet waddling awkwardly in Evanny’s footsteps all around the circuit–“we’re doing a SAFE piggyback ride,” Three explained proudly.

Three also and especially LOVES being the monkey who leads the see-do romp of imitation through their little days

Three takes gymnastics classes once a week, tromping off merrily with a loose handful of 3-5 year-olds to run obstacle courses and bounce down a store-length trampoline in the new delight of a blue-matted wonderland. She doesn’t always listen all that well, and I hear her name more often than that of the other kids in her group, but she’s fearless at whatever test they set before her, and fearless at failing, falling over and trying again just as happily as landing where she meant to, and the marvel of watching that little body that I grew, so limp and tiny those few years ago, the one that toddled up and tumbled down the stairs in such bald-headed glee, now long and tall, leotards stretched over her rib cage as she reaches skyward, hair falling in a red-winged ripple over her shoulders, it’s almost too much to handle. So fast, it goes, so fast. And then she dramatically throws herself on the floor in a pretend fall, like she does six thousand times a day at home, and I know she’s still my self-same baby, goofy as her uncle Brek and without the slightest crumb of self-consciousness about the expectations of the people around her.

A pre-gymnastics nibble of snack, a rare ponytail, and those long, long legs that grew from nowhere

Three explores shapes, glue, and school-tasks at the Onondaga Free Library’s story hour

Three is starting to take an interest in school-things: she counts to ten unthinkingly, twenty with thought, and gets tangled in the tens-designations themselves, but gets the pattern for how they lead all the way to 100 and repeat thereafter. She recognizes and names the “E” in things, and knows the other most important letters too: C for Caleb, T for Tabitha, B for book, and D for Daddy. So far, she loves to play with colours but has zero interest in the attention-span required to learn to colour within the lines, and mostly just scribbles. She can draw little people–I’ve seen it–but rarely bothers with representational art. From what I can deduce, three’s interest in art is about the motion of spreading colour around and about making sure the colour you spread is your favourite (which is why we get so many pictures colored all and only in red).

Three is also a magic middle-number for our three: it’s got them frozen in photographs really together, Ev big enough to keep up with at least 2/3 of everything Caleb can do, but still small enough to drag a delighted Tabba with her as she does so. I give them only a couple of years before he’s too old for their little-girl abilities and interests (a good many kids would be done already by eight), but they’ll be beautiful years, burrowing into their memories and giving them the shared language of “when we were kids” that they’ll have forever, and it’s in good part thanks to Three: Caleb is amazing with the babies, an absolute gem of a creative, sweet, inclusive, tolerant role-player, but his efforts work as well as they do because Three is quick on her feet, almost as quick verbally as he was, a pop-culture sponge for their shared interests, and not a pushover–she doesn’t bore him as fast as you’d think because, his 5-year head start notwithstanding, she doesn’t always let him lead. Really, and she makes sure we all know it, Three is doing us all a favour anytime she lets anybody lead. Three runs the show. Is the show. Shines, shines, shines. Crazy daisy, crazy diamond, oh this heart of mine.


“I have a surprise for you,” Three likes to call out to me, fingers hovering at the hem of her shirt, when she’s feeling in need of a little attention (or thinks I am). “It’s YOUR FAVOURITE BELLY!” And then she lets me pet it, rolling and giggling, and grabs me, and says “you can’t ever let your belly go.” And of course I promise not to, even knowing that of course she’ll go–that belly already goes places I can’t keep up with, and has a whole life’s opportunities to do it more ahead. But even as she’s on some level totally aware of that, Three is also little, and wants the simple reassurance of being tickled and held and promised, and I’ll give it as long as she asks… Even when it’s muttered into my hair at 4 in the morning while her sister sleep-chants “mama, boob, mama, boob” from the other room. Sleep right there, my belly. I’ll always come back for you. Even though I know the day is always coming closer when you won’t want me to, too busy dancing off to your own drums and dashing toward some dream or another– the soundtrack you’ll hear when such inspiration strikes hasn’t been written yet, and it’s thus impossible to imagine. Me, though, thanks to the love of repetition inherent in three…  I’ll still be hearing the echoes of Rhianna.

“Turn your face toward the sun; let the shadows fall behind you”




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