Life Lessons From a Three Year Old {

At dinner each night, we have a family tradition of discussing our day. Each person answers five questions:

  1. What was your favorite part of the day?
  2. What didn’t you like about your day?
  3. Is there anything you are worried about?
  4. What are you looking forward to?
  5. What are you thankful for?

Lately, Natalie, the youngest, REALLY gets into this.

Our dining room table only seats four, so Natalie, at three (almost four) is still stuck in her high chair for supper. While I was certain this would become a point of contention; it hasn’t. Not at all. In fact, seated at the head of the table between Nate and me, she seems to enjoy lording over our dinner conversation. She is the first to tell us that it is time to pray. She is the first jump right into our traditional conversation. She often decides who will go next and asks everyone each question that she remembers.

Here is the beauty in Natalie’s participation: she cares.

When Taryn (our cheerful optimist) tells us ( that she has no “worst part of the day” because “everything was great,” Natalie cheers. She cheers. Big WOO HOOs with fist pumps and high fives.

When Aidan tells us his favorite part of the day was mastering a skill he has been working on, she claps and showers him with accolades.

Before Nate can even answer what he is legitimately looking forward to, she immediately answers for him, “cuddling with me?” or “giving me huggiekisses?”.

When I detail some worry about getting somewhere on time or making sure I have everything completed by some deadline for some event, she encourages me. She tells me not to worry or shrugs and gives me a look that says, “whatever happens will happen, and it will happen for a reason (even if I – Natalie – am that reason).”

Whenever any of us hesitate sharing what we are thankful for, she answers for us in for us with two powerful words: our family.

I love her for that.

I love her enthusiasm. I love her exuberance. I love the way she celebrates the good with us, or comforts us during the bad, and encourages us through the challenging.

Because that is hard for me. I have a very hard time sincerely being in the moment like that (which is why I started this little chat – for me to practice being present and to touch base with the kids at least once a day).

The thing is: there are so many days when I feel like that conversation is just too much. Touching base, even for a  moment one time each day, is too much. I feel exhausted. I feel like I have given everything  – EVERYTHING – to these little charges of mine, to the point I am ragged and worn and empty.  There are days when the fact that those children are still breathing at dinnertime AND about to consume something – even the bag of microwave popcorn I asked the eldest to make is a miraculous feat of mercy from our great and mighty God. I don’t want to engage. I don’t want to give anymore. (I handed out the popcorn, I am going to bed. It is summer, and they can find their way to bed or not. I don’t care. Do quiet, safe things and just let me breathe…)

I honestly sometimes curse myself for even implementing this ridiculous tradition…

Then I hear Natalie leading them in prayer and asking what their favorite part of the day is.

The force of that little tug on my heart-strings is enough to shatter me.

By God’s strength (and conviction) I crawl out of my fortress of pity and self-loathing, and I force myself to sit at that table and be present. Even if the only thing I have to look forward to is a new day and another chance to do something by God’s grace. Even if my favorite part of the day was going to bed. Even I struggle with gratitude and can’t think of anything to be thankful for. Even if I am worried that I will feel like that for the rest of my life.

It isn’t easy.

But God never promised easy. He pledged to be with me.

I am thankful that God gave me children strong enough to both withstand my parenting, and make me a better mom. Because that is what she is doing. This little three-year-old is schooling me, the mom, about what is important. She intrinsically knows that this matters so much, and is so vital to our family, that she is willing to put on her big girl panties and do what needs to be done.

And she does it well, with a spirit of thanksgiving and joy and compassion, from a place of pure love.

I have so much to learn.