There's a mysterious place we seldom visit, a land of enchantment and torture, a world known -- quite simply -- as the Land of Three. At once both quiet and loud, it is also a mixture of joy and sorrow, euphoria and guilt, happiness and pain. Thankfully, it's a difficult place to find, and once you arrive you're never certain what to think.

My most recent visit came yesterday. I had no idea I'd be traveling, and so when the opportunity arose I questioned why. This is how it happened:

Smartypants refused to go to the bathroom. We were seated on the couch, listening to music, and I, ever the troublemaker, mentioned she hadn't gone potty for hours. I suggested she give it a try.  Her response:  "No."

Being underwhelmed by her analytical answer, I continued to insist. "Please go potty so you don't wet my couch."

She refused. Some time later, perhaps eight or nine seconds, I asked again. And once more she refused. My mind recollected the two cups of water she consumed half an hour earlier, the apple juice she drank with breakfast, the orange juice at lunch. I didn't panic. But Smartypants has a tendency to forget her bladderous (i made up that word) responsibilities, so I couldn't take any chances. The next time I INSISTED she visit the lavatory.


And here's where our journey begins. "I'm going to count to three, and you better be on your way to the bathroom..."

The Land of Three, to my children at least, is a terrifying place. I'm not sure why. The finality of the number three in a child's mind must be like some pious fear of eternal damnation. It's an abstraction, a fantasy, a place much worse in her mind than in reality. Since the earliest days, Smartypants has feared the Land of Three. Almost without exception, by the time I say "Two" she's doing whatever it was she refused a moment earlier. But why? What's so scary about three?

We don't spank our children, so I doubt they fear getting hit. We don't (often or intentionally) verbally abuse our children, so I doubt they fear profanity or screaming taunts. What I HAVE been known to do is either sit them in a corner or send them to their rooms. In Smartypants' four years of life, she's probably been sent to her room less than 10 times (Smiley, on the other hand, will likely surpass Smartypants' record prior to her second birthday). So it's an uncommon occurrence, and yet that mystical punishment often instigates her to do whatever I ask before the counting ends.

Of course, that wasn’t the case yesterday. And I offered ample opportunities. "Two... Two and a half... Two and three quarters... Two and seven eighths... Two and fifty-nine sixtieths...

She stared at me with those defiant eyes, but she was panting with anticipation.

"Do you want to go to your room?" I asked. She grunted at me.

And suddenly we were there. In the Land of "Three."

Guards came to transport the princess to her dungeon, and she fought kicking and screaming all the way. The Dragon named Smiley watched curiously from a corner. The evil King cast an enchantment on the dungeon, and the princess could break the spell only if she stopped crying and went potty. And so the minutes passed.

In the Land of Three, you stop what you're doing and listen to the silence. It's pleasant. And yet you can't enjoy it, because as you dangle your feet in the crystal clear waters of euphoria, the piranhas of guilt nibble at your toes. Your moment of solitude and quiet is clouded by a fog of sadness as you imagine your little princess trapped in a dungeon longing to escape. You fear you'll scar her. You fear she'll hate you. Such fears are silly and illogical, but you have them nonetheless.

You can't stop asking, "Why didn't she just go to the bathroom?"

Eventually, the crying stops and the task is done, and your vacation in the Land of Three is over. You never know when you'll return. Most plans to visit end before they ever begin, and for that you must always be thankful. Still, in the back of your mind, you'll wonder when the next trip will be. You'll wonder why you must go there at all. You'll wonder how it can be such a dichotomous place.

More than anything, you'll probably wonder over and over the simplest question of all:  Why won’t they just listen?


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