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Life's best lessons can be learned from a 3-year-old

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Lynne D. Schwabe Lynne D. Schwabe

Lynne D. Schwabe was owner of Schwabe-May of Charleston, ran her own marketing consulting firm and is a nationally recognized motivational speaker. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Women's Wear Daily, and has appeared on CNBC's Power Lunch. She is now director of development for the National Youth Science Foundation. She can be reached at schwabestatejournal@gmail.com.


My darling grand daughter recently left after a week-long visit. The chaos has disappeared: all toys are put away, the beds are changed and the towels washed. The fine layer of toast crumbs that covered every surface has been vacuumed up. So while the general appearance of my life has returned to normal, I feel totally bereft as there is no one at home to gleefully shout, "YAY!" when I walk in the door from work.
Be is almost 3 now and a real little girl. She picks out her own clothes; she dances to her own rhythms; she sleeps in a big girl bed. After accomplishing something that she's put her mind to, she'll turn to anyone nearby and announce, "I am so capable." This happened a lot at the "Big Playground," her name for The Clay Center. Every learning station required deep concentration, mastery and then, the inevitable announcement. It was terrific. There are still Clay Center stickers festooning the car seat, which I have left in place because they make me smile.
While Be is not allowed to watch TV much, my daughter realizes that grandmothers live for spoiling. So we can watch movies, carefully vetted so that there are no scary parts. "Lady and the Tramp," known in our house as "Doggies," was a big hit, despite the appearance of the big rat. My first big mistake was buying "Babe," thinking (wrongly as it turned out) that a movie about pigs had to be OK. My second mistake was not watching it first. So, unprepared, Be and I settled under a cozy blanket and prepared to be entertained. Honestly, these animated things should come with warnings. I know that some people think "Babe" is one of the best movies ever made, and indeed it may be. But it also has a very dark undertone and a graphic scene in which rogue dogs come upon and terrorize a flock of sheep, savaging one of the favorite characters. Although I covered Be's eyes during this grisly bit and tried to ameliorate the situation by saying that the lamb had a boo-boo and needed a bandage, I only hope I didn't scar her young psyche. If we talk about movies now, she reprimands me. "Not the movie with the bad dogs, G-Ma."
Luckily there were less frightening alternatives for entertainment. A dear friend in New Orleans has been sending me Mardi Gras beads for several years. Be knows just where this treasure trove is located, and she delights in wearing them all at once, or carefully arranging them by color so that they cover my living room floor. While toys are appreciated and given their due, the most fun stems from playing with rubber duckies and a Lucite sculpture that looks like stairs. The ducks line up and down on the various levels, as Be tells herself stories about their interactions. The imagination of a toddler is unlimited by grown-up expectations. A box can occupy her all day long.
Twirling takes up a lot of her time, which is as it should be. The twirl skirt must be washed every night so that it can be part of the twirling routine the next day, which has become central to Be's well being. Her beloved purple Uggs are second in the fashion hierarchy, second probably only because they do not lend themselves to twirling. "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" is the most sung song. It was only recently that in a flash of blinding insight I realized that Twinkle Twinkle and the ABC song are sung to the same tune. In another endless game, I don't know who chases whom — the cat or the little girl. Both seem to derive equal enjoyment from dashing around corners after one another.
Be has learned to be funny, and she loves to laugh. Her sense of humor is developing so rapidly that she may be doing stand up when she's 7. She's perfecting a deadpan delivery, which cracks me up, saying things like, "I have arrived for my snack" or "Would you care to join me in a game of Go Fish?" I am totally lost to her charms.
By the time she turns 5, it's unlikely that Be will have read "War and Peace," either in English or in its original Russian. She probably won't play Beethoven, Bach or the Beatles on the piano, the violin, the recorder or any other instrument. I doubt she will solve any theorems related to vector integral calculus, nor will she advance our understanding of quantum mechanics. It's enough that right now she knows all her numbers and letters, can work puzzles in seconds flat and never, ever forgets anything.
And, it's obvious that I am the slow learner in the family, since I didn't realize how enchanting grandchildren were until now.