Sometimes Three-Year-Olds Do Know Best

Sometimes Three-Year-Olds Do Know Best

By Alexis Wolff

 

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These little people we’re tasked with raising, the ones who we’re supposed to teach right from wrong before releasing them to make their marks on the world, they come with lessons for us too.

 

It was the last night of our Disney cruise, a Christmas gift to my sons from their grandparents. After a final visit to the ship’s Finding Nemo-themed splash pad, then a decadent dinner capped off by Mickey-shaped desserts, my family of four was crowded together in our cabin. My five-month-old son slept sweetly in a Pack ‘n Play while his big brother, three-year-old Flynn, rooted through a backpack of books we’d brought, picking out a few for bed.

“So, what do you think?” I whispered to my husband.

“If you really want to,” he replied.

Starting in a few minutes was one final character meet and greet—something I knew Flynn would love. But, it was already well past his bedtime. And frankly, mine too.

“It’s vacation,” I decided after a moment’s thought. “I’m going.” I turned to Flynn. “Hey buddy, want to come with Mommy? Mickey’s boat has one last surprise.”

The backpack of books? Old news. Flynn’s green eyes sparkled as he nodded, grabbed my hand and raced for the door.

I started to pull the handle but then turned back. “Hang on small fry. Mommy needs to get her phone.”

I found it on the nightstand, shoved it in my pocket and headed out the door and down the narrow cruise ship corridor with my pajama-clad preschooler.

We arrived atop the stairs that led down to the ship’s Art Deco lobby, where dozens of characters were holding court. Flynn jumped up and down at the sight of them.

“Which friend can I meet first?” Flynn asked.

“Whichever you want.”

“Hey, this is like the Frozen stairs!” Flynn announced as we descended the regal staircase like Disney royalty.

“Mmm hmm buddy,” I replied. “Sure is.”

In the lobby, Flynn wandered over to Chip and Dale, who I wasn’t sure he even knew before our trip. We waited in a short snake of a line for his turn to hug each chipmunk and then squeeze between them while I shot a photo on my phone.

Next up was Cinderella. Snap snap. Then Donald. Click Click.

“Who now kiddo?” I asked.

Flynn looked up at me. “Can we not take any more pictures?” he asked, his voice even and calm.

“If that’s what you want, of course. Are you tired? Are you ready to go back up to the room now?”

“No!” he protested, stomping a foot to the floor. He was calm no more. “I’m not tired.”

“What then? I don’t understand what you want. Tell me what you want.”

“I want not to do any more pictures,” he whined. “I want to give Mickey and Minnie and Daisy big hugs and tell them bye-bye. Can we do that? Yes or no?”

Suddenly I saw that all around me, adults were clambering for perfect final photos—just like I had been. Turn this way, they were saying to their kids. Now that way. Smile. Say cheese. They stopped to assess the images on their screens. Another one, they would say. Let’s try again. And then time was up. The kids continued on to the next character hardly having interacted with the first. It was another parent’s turn to try for a photo that would be frame or Facebook worthy.

Why were they doing this? Why was I?

“Can we do that?” Flynn repeated, reminding me about his request for no more pictures. “Yes or no?”

“Of course we can do that,” I told him. I put my phone in my pocket for good. “Of course. You’re absolutely right.”

These little people we’re tasked with raising, the ones who we’re supposed to teach right from wrong before releasing them to make their marks on the world, they come with lessons for us too.

The unadulterated perspective of my three-year-old son reminded me: The point of pictures is to remember the moment, so when pictures become the moment, what’s the point?

For the rest of the night, I followed Flynn as he moved from character to character. Last up was his favorite friend.

“Mickey!” he said with an excited grin before wrapping his arms around the mouse’s leg. Then he took a step back and tilted up his head. He just stood there staring, his eyes wide with admiration.

“Photo Mom?” Mickey asked me.

It would have made a great one, but I’d made a promise. I shook my head. Mickey shrugged and let Flynn stare.

“Bye-bye Mickey,” Flynn said after a bit. “I had fun on your boat. I’ll see you later in your clubhouse. I love you. Bye-bye.”

Hand in hand, my pajama-clad prince and I headed back up the regal staircase and down the carpeted cruise ship corridor to our cabin.

“Shh,” I whispered before opening the door. “Your brother’s sleeping.”

“Okay,” Flynn whispered back. “Hey Mommy?”

“Yeah small fry?”

“I’m so glad that happened.”

A year and a half has gone by—a year and a half filled with cute soccer uniforms, dinosaur-themed birthday parties, ill-fitting snowsuits and other photogenic fun. And I have photographed some of it, but sometimes I make myself put my phone away. I make myself because: those hundreds of pictures I took on our Disney cruise? I never look at them. When I think back to that trip, the un-photographed final moments are the ones I remember most.

Alexis Wolff’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Mamalode and the Best Women’s Travel Writing anthology, among others. She lives with her husband and two young sons in Mexico.

Photo: Getty Images