Life Lessons from Three-Year-Olds

2016-08-23-14-16-42This summer, I brought my daughter on a long-planned trip to my home turf: Vermont, where I spent my first 17 years and where my parents and grandmother and several good friends still live. I had envisioned showing her all my favorite old haunts, rambling down rec paths, going to the beach by Lake Champlain, and maybe even taking a short hike in Smuggler’s Notch.

As it turned out, I didn’t have the energy to do much besides get on and off the plane, collapse into my parents’ car and spend most of the week sitting around their house. It was just a few weeks after I’d learned about my recurrence, and I was still exhausted from the barrage of chemo drugs I’d received a few days earlier.

Yet somehow, it was a great trip anyway. Three-year-olds don’t require much to be entertained, as it turns out, or at least mine doesn’t. She was clearly just thrilled to be there with me. My mom, grandmother and I spent a whole afternoon sitting and chatting on the front porch of grandma’s lovely rural home, with nary a kids’ toy around and precious little in sight besides fields, trees and hills. Yet E found enough excitement in simple things like rocking chairs, wildflowers, birdbaths, small stones, grassy hillsides, and passing birds and bugs to while away the hours quite happily.

A few days later, when I was still feeling crummy, we spent most of the day just sitting around my parents’ house while they were out at an event. They left us a car, but I couldn’t muster the energy to use it. I was sitting on the front porch steps, feeling sad and defeated about “wasting” a beautiful Vermont summer day, when I “should” have been taking her on some sort of fun adventure. And overall, I was still just reeling from the news of the recurrence.

But then E sat down next to me and laid her head on my shoulder and said, “Mommy, I like spending time with you.” And then she broke into a song from her favorite PBS Kids show, Daniel Tiger:

“It’s okay to feel sad sometimes, little by little, you’ll feel better again.

When you are feeling down, it’s okay to feel sad.

But little by little, you’ll see, it won’t always be bad!”

She sang this to me, unprompted, with great tenderness, for the next ten minutes or so. Kids are sometimes so much wiser than we are.

And looking around the backyard from her perspective, I suddenly saw the wonder of it all again. Remembering my own childhood summers, I took off our socks, and showed her the pleasure of walking barefoot on the soft grass, of plucking weeds and flowers along the edge of the cornfield to concoct elaborate pretend “salads,” of pinching the orange jewelweed pods until they pop open with just enough force to make you catch your breath and giggle. I pointed out the patch of wild sumac I used to call my clubhouse, and the trees I once climbed.

We walked across the street to the post office and village market, which both seemed like exotic adventures to a child from suburbia. And we wandered into the quiet sanctuary of the old congregational church next door, which my dad pastored throughout my growing-up years and which holds so many happy memories for me, including my wedding. There were a few new things from the congregation that uses it now — tinseled tambourines hanging on some of the pews; a basket of Christian DVDs for swapping — but most was remarkably unchanged. Same glorious stained-glass windows catching the afternoon light just right so that even the old powder blue carpet seemed vibrant again, same old piano in the corner. I plunked out a few hymns from the familiar blue hymnal and let E have a go at it, too. She doesn’t know how, of course, and I tried to explain that it involves lessons and practice, but she insisted that “I know how to play, but this piano is broken.” 🙂

As we wandered slowly back across the lawn, squishing the grass between our toes, I was reminded of an E.E. Cummings poem (see full text here) that I printed out and hung in my bedroom as a highschooler:

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes… should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

It’s nearly two months later now, and I’ve had three more rounds of treatment since. Next week I’ll have a scan to find out if it’s been doing any good. In the meantime, I will focus on thankfulness for all these amazing days, and all the love in my life.

4 thoughts on “Life Lessons from Three-Year-Olds

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