Lessons I Learned from My Three-Year-Old
“Mommy! Mommy! Look, a goat! A silver goat!”
I’m sitting at a traffic light, annoyed at the large truck in front of me that caused me to miss the green light in the first place, and only barely hearing my daughter trying to get my attention.
“Look, Mommy, look! A silver goat!” she says louder.
I have no idea where she’s looking. We don’t live in a rural area. There are cars on either side of us, and I’m not actually sure I’ve ever seen a silver goat in my life.
“Look, Mommy!” she screams this time.
“Right there,” she says, pointing directly in front of us.
I look in front of us and see the annoying truck. What I didn’t see, at least not initially, was the ten-foot high picture of a mountain on the back of the truck. And on that mountain, a large, silver goat staring directly at me.
“How about that? You’re right Gabby, there is a silver goat.”
“I love it!” she squealed with delight.
At that moment, a wide grin spread across my face. My anger at this truck transformed into gratitude that it could bring such joy to my daughter and some much needed perspective to me.
This happens often. Gabby notices things often invisible to the rest of us. Planes in the sky, stickers on windows, shapes in the clouds, advertisements on bus stops that she finds hilarious. My husband and I are always amazed when she spots these things; amazed at her super-human power of observation, her sharp focus, and particularly at the joy she experiences from the smallest and most seemingly mundane things. Yet I’ve come to realize that it is more than keen observational skills; Gabby has a profound capacity for wonder. This realization is quickly followed by a more difficult one: Is Gabby’s sense of wonder at prodigal levels, or has my own sense of wonder and awe all but disappeared?
Everything, even the smallest thing, fills Gabby with wonder. Abraham Joshua Heschel calls what Gabby experiences radical amazement. Our goal, he says, “should be to live life in radical amazement…get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” My daughter seems to have achieved something at three-years-old that many adults spend their whole lives striving to attain. And it’s not just her. Young children in general have an astounding capacity for wonder and recognition of awe that leaves me wondering what happens to our sense of wonder when we grow up. Why doesn’t it seem to grow with us? Why does my daughter have to shout in order for me to notice the beauty right in front of my eyes?
There is so much I wish to teach Gabby. Yet with every passing day, I have come to realize that there is just as much, if not more, that Gabby can teach me: slow down, laugh more, prioritize play and joy, forgive often, see the wonder in everything, and these just skim the surface of her infinite toddler wisdom. As an educator, I always ask what I can teach my students. Perhaps we should begin with asking what our students can teach us.
I heard an interview recently where an educator said the goal of education is to teach our children to be good people. The truth, however, is that our children are already good people. They are born good, curious, and filled with wonder. It is our job as parents and educators to help keep them that way. In order to do that, we need to reclaim those lost parts of ourselves. I can’t think of a better teacher for that task than our children and students, and in my case, my three-year-old daughter Gabby.
One in a series from our inaugural Blog B'Omer.
Micol Zimmerman Burkeman is Experiential Jewish Education Network Liaison at HUC-JIR.