Friday, July 22, 2016

Seven Things I've Learned From My 3-Year-Old About Building Community

  My son, the extrovert, does not seem to mind Island Living. (This is the term I've coined to describe my family's experience of living and parenting away from family.) He creates his own community wherever he goes.

   At the gym he befriended an older gentleman who exercises in the pool most mornings. They had not actually heard each others' voices because of the glass between the pool and the lobby, but every day he would run to the glass to show Mr. Bob what to he had brought and Bob would pantomime back, I would try to interpret, and then Bob would splash the glass in front of Jackson. J worked hard on perfecting his thumbs up gesture so that he could flash it back at Bob. 

   I've actually now had a few conversations with Bob when we happen to meet outside the pool at the gym (and once at the grocery store). We gave him a Christmas card so he would know our names (before we had spoken) and he gave Jackson a Christmas present. I know that relationship would not exist without Jackson and his friendly nature (and I love when others take an interest in my children).

   Whenever we go to a park, the pool, a restaurant - wherever - Jackson inevitably strikes up a conversation with someone. Most of the time it is usually to ask another person to play with him. At three years old, he doesn't always remember to ask their names so he often refers to them as "kid" or "my friend", though if he learns their name then he will ask about them the next time we're at the place where they met.

   At restaurants he often turns around to ask the (usually) older girl what her name is. Once, to the shagrin of his grandparents, he turned to two teenage girls in the booth behind him and said, "Hello, ladies!"

   We were at the pool earlier this summer and he started talking to another mother about The Jungle Book. Later he went over to her while she was laying in a lounge chair and asked her to watch him while he jumped into the pool (before you think I ignore or neglect him, I was in the water waiting to catch him when he performed his magnificent feat). He checked several times to make sure she was watching, jumped, then immediately looked to her for her reaction. I appreciated her obliging him. 

   He has no fear of talking to unknown people. He assumes he will be well received, have a positive interaction and an immediate new friend. I love his boldness, innocence and confidence. I usually start a conversation with the parent of the child Jackson's playing with. I admittedly feel more awkward during these interactions than he does. I've probably lost my lack of inhibition through my own encounters with people over the years. I love that Jackson reminds me that there are always opportunities to have positive social interactions and meet some potential new friends.

Playing catch with a "new friend" at the park
  In honor of my gregarious son, I have compiled a list of seven things I've learned from watching him navigate his world. Perhaps I could gain quite a bit from acting more like him.

1. He's not bothered about lacking a built-in community. He's comfortable making his own wherever he goes.

2. He doesn't discriminate. He sees everyone as a potential new friend.

3. He is confident that he will be accepted and enjoyed for who he is.

4. He enjoys the community that is available to him rather than lamenting what he doesn't have.

5. He is not afraid to seek out community. He's not worried about looking weak or needy.

6. He seems to implicitly know that creating community benefits everyone involved.

7. He is not concerned about what others will think. He doesn't hesitate to ask for what he wants or needs.

Is there anything on this list that you could benefit from implementing in your own life? What have you learned from watching your own children navigate the world?

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