Mentors and Angels: My Favorite 3-Year-Old

With the current year winding down and a new year full of possibilities looking us in the eye, I began to think about the many mentors and angels whose willingness to cross my path touched me in one way or another. I tend to think of these mentors in terms of enemies and frenemies as well as friends and family; in general, my angels have been angels in human skin. All have helped me learn and grow.

The mentor I’m thinking about this morning, as I look out at a winter sky the color of faded denim, is 3 years old. In the event you haven’t crossed paths with a 3-year-old recently, I’ll share a comment I heard from a young father recently. The usually chipper guy, who loves being a dad, commented “People told me to watch out for the Terrible Twos. My daughter’s 2s were wonderful. But the threes?! Holy hell. I’m not sure we’ll survive.”

I totally get it, and that’s why my 3-year-old mentor comes to mind. He has a big heart and is quite courageous, but his focus right now, as it should be, is individuality. It’s awesome and terrifying to behold, as he swings between clinging to the adults in his life one moment and screaming at those same bewildered folks to “put me down NOW.” Whenever possible, he fights for his rights, as he views them, whether that’s his “right” to take away his older brother’s newest toy, his “right” to determine his own nap- and bed-time, or his “right” to shove anyone who gets in his way for any reason.

To be clear, even the 3-year-old gets no slack when it comes to violence toward others, animals, or himself. We talk about anger and disappointment as big feelings that we learn to express in other ways. Together we seek ways to do so that aren’t harmful. Two of his current favorites are blowing raspberries and screaming I’m so angry with you repeatedly at the top of his surprisingly powerful lungs.

What I love about this amazing boy, my grandson, is that he lives with such passion. He doesn’t pull his punches or edit his words, so when I offer him options like you may sit at the table in the kitchen or on the patio to finish your lunch, he literally stomps his feet and may demand to eat on the floor in his bedroom or under the orange tree in the backyard or in the garage. When I repeat the options, the volume of his voice will increase as he repeats his demand.

After a minute or two, when I’ve reminded myself this isn’t a battle-of-wills or even a personal-attack, when I’ve explained calmly and repeatedly that he can select from sit at the kitchen table, sit at the patio table, or skip lunch, he picks an option. He appears quite offended that he has been forced to choose.

Then he sits down for lunch at the table, smiles, and the topic of conversation drifts a million miles away from the recent battle. He just lets it go.

No torment. No second-thoughts. After giving his all to the battle, he makes a decision, follows through, and whether or not the result is optimal, he has moved on.

Just like that.

This morning I observed him and the way he moved on and was amazed at his recovery speed. Yes, his decisions seem minor in comparison to some adult choices, but they’re huge to him. I’ve held on to toxic relationships, horrible rentals, godawful jobs, and when I let them go, wondered whether I’d given up too quickly.

This morning I remembered my Auntie Frances telling me in my early adulthood to let go of any fears related to making decisions. She seemed very sure of herself when she remarked “most are not fatal, although hesitation can be.” She suggested not taking the time to wipe the dust off my feet when leaving a bad situation. “Giving up?” I asked, “I thought my job was to persevere.” She said “I used to think that, but now I think our job is to lift the world and make it better. We can’t do that if we’re miserable.”

And when I thought it over:

  • All the big decisions I second-guessed and tortured myself about: good decisions.
  • All the self-doubt: absolute waste of time.

In the interest of excellent self-care in this time-limited life, I’m looking to my little mentor.

My suggestion: when something ends, strive to embody that grace that compels us to move forward instead of peeking in the rear-view mirror. Learn from the past, of course, but it seems to me we lift the world whenever we focus on the marvelous moments, one at a time, and we lift our own spirits as well.

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