I don’t remember much, if anything, about being three years old. The furthest I can usually reach back is the year after that, when I suddenly had to share my parents’ attention with a big-lunged baby brother. I’m certain that who I am and what I know is built on experiences from those earliest years, but I’m also sure I could audit a few classes from a less-jaded version of myself. That is why I’m taking notes as I watch my son grow up. Here’s what my newly-minted threenager is teaching me:
Resilience. I have watched L outrun his own feet, causing him to leave several layers of skin on the concrete. Sometimes he cries, sometimes he doesn’t, but it’s never long before he has popped back up and started playing full-tilt again. He doesn’t understand shame, so he has no need to make his scrapes seem more dire than they are or to blame them on someone else. That frees him up to keep going.
Boundaries. I’ve seen other kids shove L when we’ve been in public play areas. He usually looks that child in the eye, points his finger, and says, “No hit!” in a firm voice. He knows he doesn’t deserve to be pushed around. (Let’s hope he always remembers that others don’t either…)
Feeling the feels. When something is really bothering L, he will break down in sobs and wail, “I’m so sad!” He gets it out, lets his dad and me comfort him, and moves on. He doesn’t stuff it down deep until it explodes at another time.
Love of self. This child loves the mirror. He tries out different expressions. He admires how he looks in a tie. He doesn’t brush off compliments; he beams at them. No body image issues here.
Un-self-consciousness. L loves planes, trains, and helicopters. He also loves Fancy Nancy, accessories, and the color pink. He doesn’t limit himself to a category, and (at least so far) he doesn’t try to impose labels on others either.
Persistence. L got a 24-piece puzzle (a real one!) for his birthday. It took a few days to complete. We left it out so he could work on it a bit at a time. He turned the pieces this way and that, trying to match the colors, lines, and notches. When he would find a fit, he’d take a moment to celebrate: “Great job. I did it!”
Forgiveness. No matter how often I mess up as a parent, he loves me. He gives me biiiiig huuuuugs. And he tells me it’s time to play again. He gets that our relationship is larger than one incident.
Yes, a lot of the great qualities that I admire in my son come from the fact that he is in the early stages of understanding how to relate to the world, which is itself still small in his eyes. He’s still very ego-centered. But I can’t help but think that he has much to teach me about myself – and that he is giving me pointers on how to help him as his challenges get larger – if I will only pay attention.