3 things I love about my 3-year-old

August 28, 2017
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A few weeks ago, my first baby turned three. THREE!
Rationally, I know birthdays aren't that big of a deal. They happen every 365 days, without fail. There's no magical switch that changes a person from the day before their birthday to the day after. Birthday are also ripe with materialism.
Logically, I know these things, but this birthday was special.
On his first birthday, I still couldn't believe how cute and adorable and wonderful he was. He'd been a textbook baby: slept through the night very early on, hit all his milestones on time, and had a very good disposition. As we hit the one year mark, the honeymoon phase hadn't ended.
On his second birthday, I was exhausted. I'd transitioned from "having a baby" to "parenting"—and they could not be more different. After many months of running after him and trying to reason with him through tantrums, the honeymoon phase had become a distant memory. I celebrated the mere fact that I made it through the year without pulling my hair out.
On his third birthday, though, I felt different. I'm still exhausted. Add to that, I'm hungover from The Terrible Two's (which were, in fact, terrible). But this year, I have something new to celebrate: Juan José, the person.
Right now, as he turns three-years-old, his personality is shining through more than ever. Every single day, he shares something about how he feels or what he's learned: a new song, a new interest, a new reaction. I want to celebrate these new parts of him that I'm just now getting to know.
So, in the spirit of documenting and celebrating this boy of mine, here are three things I love about him...

1. Empathy

About a month ago, Juan José was flying a toy plane around the living room when he decided to chuck it into the air so it could "fly" on its own. Well, it "flew" in my direction—landing the plane's nose right into my shin bone.
The sharp pain instantly sucked in my entire awareness. All that existed in that moment was my throbbing shin. I stumbled over to the couch and grabbed at my leg, taking deep breaths to suppress the stream of expletives playing in my mind from spilling out of my mouth.
Looking back, I realize I probably scared the kid half to death. But instead of cry—which is how I expected him to react—Juan José did this:
Him: Mama, mama, are you happy, mama?
Me, through gritted teeth: No, Juan José, I'm not happy.
Him, walking down the stairs: Mama, you need ice, mama. I go get ice, mama. PAPAAAA. Papa, mama needs ice.
*brings me ice in a Ziploc*
Him: Are you happy now, mama? Are you happy?
The pain in my leg didn't let up for quite a while (and neither did the bruise), but his eagerness to make me feel better melted my heart enough to compensate. In the past, he'd shown a clear understanding of the consequences of his actions—I throw the plane, it hits mom's leg, she's hurt—but I'd never seen him react with such empathy.
After he brought me the ice, he wouldn't leave my side. He just stood there, staring at me, frowning, asking me periodically if I was happy. He didn't get distracted and run off to play with a car or another toy. He stayed with me, and he cared for me.
The way he shows so much empathy at such a young age fills my heart with relief—relief that he knows how to connect with others and honor them, even in their pain.

2. Thirst for learning

Anyone with cable knows that kids really do say the darndest things. (Wasn't that a great show?) Juan José is no different. From randomly asking who gave him each toy in his playroom to musings about constellations and planets at the dinner table, his conversations are getting weirder and weirder. And I love it.
I'm assuming it's normal I think he's some kind of child prodigy fated for a career at NASA or will replace Elon Musk as the world's newest startup-and-save-the-world type. I'm also assuming it's normal I know my Mom Colored Glasses are totally distorting reality. But his smarts aren't what bring me joy. What makes my heart light up is his thirst to learn anything and everything.
Starting at a young age, whenever I'd enunciate a word for him, he'd repeat it back to me in his own toddler-ese. And when I'd offer the word in English, he'd stare at me, mesmerized. Fast forward to now and he's pretty much bilingual—so much so that I'm afraid he'll eventually lose his Spanish. Sometimes, when I start counting down a rocket launch, he'll stop me: "No, mom, in English!"
Lately, from the name of slugs to how to hoist himself onto the swing seat by himself, he wants to know everything—and he wants to know now.
When he had a bad case of sinusitis about a month ago, we took him for x-rays. I thought the end result would terrify him (because who wants to see their skull?!—but he actually loved it.
If his thirst for learning continues to grow over the years, I know I have little to worry about. He won't always know all the answers, but he'll be interested in finding them out.

3. Resiliency

All that being said, a three-year-old is still a three-year-old.
Things aren't always sunshine and rainbows. Along with all the moments I want to remember forever, there are moments I'd rather not experience at all: tantrums, chasing a speedy pre-schooler through a toy store, and cleaning pee off the floor.
Things happen. Potty training happens. Swim class happens. A growing sense of independence happens. But, when it comes to the "bad" stuff that comes with the three-year-old territory—Juan José is gaining quite the ability to bounce back.
As I mentioned in a recent Instagram post, Juan José started his life with a broken clavicle, and he bounced back within two weeks. Since then, he's shown that same resiliency, and then some.
When he cried through the entirety of his first swim lesson, he ended it with a big hug for the instructor and asking him to come back the next day. When we finally, finally, finally succeeded at potty training, he went above and beyond what we asked of him and refused to pee in a diaper during naps or overnight. When I needed some time to myself and let him watch the ABCmouse alphabet videos on YouTube one too many times, he rallied and learned all the letters without any adult intervention. (Picture me surprised and a little freaked out when he started rattling off the letters on a menu one night.)
The list goes on.
This kid is a buoy. He may get knocked around by the waves every once in a while, but he comes back strong every time.
* * *
I realize I could've scrapped this entire post and replaced with "I love you, Juan José." Writing over 1,000 words on one little kid's birthday is kind of overkill.
Somehow, it never feels that way when it comes to your own, though, am I right?
Happy third birthday, Juan José. 🎉 Your life is so worth documenting and celebrating. I'm lucky to be the one here to do it for you.
PS. You made it all the way to the end of a post about my kid's birthday, thank you. 🙈🙃

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Marcella Chamorro ✍🏻 Writer at the crossroads of personal growth, marketing + tech 🎙 Podcast host of Process and Kin 🗣 Master of deep conversations
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