“I will be this many years old,” Replied the Zen Child-Master

“I will be this many years old,” said my 4-year-old, wise beyond his years.

My youngest recently turned 4 years old and he basically lives in an old-fashioned one-room schoolhouse given the number of older siblings he has. Our ‘schoolhouse’ has K-12 pretty well represented so his pre-K life lessons happen as much outside the formal classroom as in the school of life that is our house.

While learning the necessary life skill of making his voice heard through the hugging chaos and competing needs of a large family, further challenged by having a busy dad running a 24/7 pediatric practice, managing a house, and trying to launch a new wellness brand I paused long enough for my youngest son to remind me in the most adorable way, to accept what is and who you are- In a word I got schooled in mindfulness by my 4-year-old.

When asked how old he will be next year, he deliberately raised his left hand, four fingers high and a thumb curled under, used his right index finger to thoughtfully point to the closed left thumb, and said, “This many!” referring to a not yet earned 5th finger.

Children have a special way of revealing universal truths in a most disarming and simplistic manner. We are graced with these fleeting Zen-like glimpses through the eyes of someone so young observing the world. The moment was so innocently insightful, humorous and touching I pulled out my pen to memorialize his message of, “Dad, we are this many in this moment and nothing at all next year, so accept who you are in this breadth.”  He wanted us to appreciate the gentle splendor of life as it unfolds through the eyes of a 4-year-old.

I ask myself, as most parents do, where does he get it?  I cannot be with him as much as I would like so his older siblings provide a lot of wanted instruction, from a well of knowledge and experience that I like to think I inspired. As the eldest of three, I assure you that siblings also provide some questionable amounts of other advice and example making that is born from the inquisitiveness of childhood and occurs when the cat is away.

In true paradoxical Zen fashion children can also light us up with the most off-color examples of frustratingly hilarious and off guard words ever said. For parents, these stories become the lore of their life and represent the scripted and spontaneous influences that define a personality.

One little boy was asked on the playground at school, “What is the weirdest thing you can say to me right now?” His response was so unfiltered and funny (to an adult who appreciates Lewis CK) yet so inappropriate that another student (who did not have a Lewis CK sense of humor) reported the words to the teacher. The teacher then told the principal who called the parents in for a meeting. I would share the full story here but it is best told over a glass of wine at a dinner party and not in written word on a pediatrician’s blog. I prefer my posts stay on the “wanted instruction” side of parenting.

The take home for us parents from these two spontaneous in-the-moment children is that they can be our Zen Masters. They have an ability to pinpoint our shadow sides, our weaknesses, our buttons and push them through the most subtle, challenging, perplexing, frustrating, irritating, amazing ways while turning their head sideways in a gentle “I am a cute puppy dog” way.

So for today, I hold a finger down and a memory up instead of pointing a finger at myself and others.

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