Life Lessons From My 3-Year Old

[In nido member Margy's first post on our blog she reflects upon the lessons she has learned from three year old son's reaction to their family's holiday tradition]

This past November, I cut 25 little rectangles out of red and green felt, hot-glued them onto a swath of duck cloth, and puff-painted on the numbers 1 through 25. I added some faux-fur white trim, a cord to hang the whole thing by, and voila, my three-year-old son had an Advent calendar. After he went to bed on November 30, I slipped a palm-sized present wrapped in silver paper into each small pocket.

Since December 1, my son has been opening one present each evening: a plastic case of Tic Tacs, three citrus-colored rolls of washi tape, an egg-shaped container of lip gloss, miniature sticker books, a compass. Every evening, he’s so excited when I ask if he’s ready to see what’s inside today’s pocket.

But I’ve noticed that his reactions to the actual gifts vary widely. When he opened a locket containing a photo of his dad and me, he just gazed at it silently, snapped it shut, and set it reverently in his trinket tray. When he opened a miniature book of dinosaur stickers, he got right down to business peeling out all the stickers and splaying them at random angles on the inside cover of the book. With the washi tape and the lip gloss, his reaction was pure delight: My very own tape?! My very own lip gloss!? He was so overjoyed at the tape and the lip gloss that the first thing did upon opening them was to offer them back to me.

There was one gift he did not find interesting at all: the compass. I had figured it was a reach, developmentally. But even though he doesn’t yet understand maps or the North Pole or magnetism, I had thought maybe the shiny metal circle with its tiny dashes and quivering needle under glass might captivate his attention. They didn’t. Upon opening the compass, he barely even listened to my attempted explanation before tossing it into his trinket tray and running off to play with his toy cars. I turned to his dad and said, “Oh well. When he’s older, he’ll come back to it, and it’ll make more sense.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about that compass. The symbolism is so obvious. Right now he is a child in his parents’ loving nest, led by the hand everywhere he goes. He will understand the compass when he is older, when he has to find his own way in the world.

But there’s something else. My little boy’s experience with the daily gifts in his Advent calendar is really like all of our lives in a nutshell. Each day of our lives, from infancy to old age, is like a silver-wrapped present, plucked from a little pocket at the moment we open our eyes in the morning. We never know until we unwrap it what will be inside, or how we will feel about it. Sometimes we’ll feel instant delight, sometimes quiet wonder, sometimes annoyance, or a sense of duty. Sometimes we’ll just feel a bored confusion—I don’t know what this is all about, and I don’t really care.

But seeing my son with his compass reminds me to put each of my days—especially the days of I don’t know and I don’t care—into my mental trinket tray for later examination. The gifts of our days don’t dissolve when we go to bed. They accumulate there in our trinket trays, waiting for us to take them up again on some future day, see them with new eyes, and use them to find our way home.