'Yes, We Can Play!' — An Open Letter To My 3-Year-Old

by Dr. Curious
RyanJLane / iStock

Hey Son,

When you first arrived, I didn’t know how to take care of you. I never babysat young children, especially not infants. But I learned how to change your diapers, warm your bottles, wash your body, and put your clothes on.

I watched you grow, and now you are 3.

You and I can talk to each other now — tell each other our thoughts. You tell me you love me sometimes. When it’s spontaneous, it makes my week. I love you, too, in ways you won’t understand until you have children of your own, the same way I didn’t understand until I had you.

Mainly, you ask me to play. Sometimes Mom and I are too busy in the evenings to play with you as much as you (and we) would like. We always make sure you eat (or at least get presented with) a good dinner, and while we prepare the food, you entertain yourself with “projects” and — on special rare occasions — a TV show. Most days, I am impressed by your patience.

Over the past few months, your favorite pastime has become an after-dinner wrestling match. You like to pretend we are lions: I am Scar and you are Simba from The Lion King, and we fight for control of one of our couches, which doubles as Pride Rock. Sometimes we are other animals — rhinos, wildebeests, hippos. But it doesn’t matter much to you as long as we are rolling around on the living room carpet.

When it’s time to stop, you are upset. You stomp your feet and want to wrestle a little longer. Your mom and I try to be firm, especially if bedtime is near. Often we settle on one more minute of wrestling, and then I challenge you to a race up the steps to prepare for bedtime.

Your repeated requests to wrestle are cute. But the tenacity of your requests makes me wonder why it is so important to you and what goes through your mind when I sometimes have to deny your request. How does this look from your perspective? I don’t know why I have not contemplated this before, and I am frankly ashamed of myself for that. Obviously I have reflected on how you see and interact with the world ever since you first opened your eyes, but less so on how I might appear through your eyes.

What are you thinking and feeling when I tell you that I can’t play right now? Can you understand that I would love to spend more time with you? If you become upset when playtime is over, do you understand my reasons? Do you know that I worry about you — what you eat, how much you sleep, who your friends are? Can you comprehend the responsibility I feel for your life?

Only you know the answers to these questions. But through your words and actions, I understand that spending time with me is important to you. It’s too easy for me to become lost in the complicated adult world, when your world is a much better, simpler place. You live in the moment, and I plan on spending more time there with you.

The other evening I was busy, chopping vegetables, turning on some music, talking to your mom, thinking about work, contemplating a new house, and wondering what to name your future sibling. I was reading a recipe on my phone as you tried to get my attention.




I finally looked up, and with a squint and a mischievous grin, you asked, “Do you wanna wrestle?”

“Yes, I’ll wrestle with you.”