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Choosing Joy: Lessons from my Two Year Old

"I love going on a run with you dad."

"I love eating popsicles with you dad."

"I love doing chalk with you dad."

All said by my two (almost three) year old son Leo over the course of one afternoon. Each sentence brought a huge smile to my face. It also made me think...he's expressed more joy in one afternoon than I have all month. I know he’s only two, but how can I be more like Leo?

A few weeks ago my wife and I took Leo, and his sister Millie, to a grass field down the street to kick a soccer ball around and throw a frisbee. We tried to beat the heat, but by 8:30am it was already close to 90 degrees outside. After a few minutes of playing in the shade, the sprinklers in the middle of the field turned on. Leo's face lit up and he immediately asked, "Can I go in the sprinklers?". I didn't love the idea of him getting soaked and having to get him home in wet clothes, but I couldn't say no to his excitement. "Sure buddy," I said. Leo made a b-line to the sprinklers, his arms in the air, screaming with joy, and within seconds he was drenched. While Leo was having the time of his life I was thinking of everything that could go wrong. "Please don't slip and do a header on the sprinkler, don't drink the water, don't take your clothes off." Soon Leo realized the only thing that could make this experience even better was to have someone run through the sprinklers WITH him. He ran back to me and mom and asked, "Do you want to run through the sprinklers with me dad?" But the idea of walking all the way home in wet clothes didn't seem appealing. I replied, "Not today bud." That's when my wife immediately stepped up, "I'll run through the sprinklers with you!" Leo was elated. What a cool mom! The two of them ran through the sprinklers, yelling and screaming with their arms in the air, having the time of their life, while I watched and smiled.

Since I've had kids, I've heard phrases like "appreciate this time", "enjoy every minute", or something along those lines from more people than I can count. Whether we are out playing at the baseball fields or riding his bike on our street, people often stop what they are doing and watch me and Leo with a smile. It usually leads to a quick conversation and I many times I learn the people are parents with adult or teenaged children. I once looked over at a woman who had been watching us and she felt like she had to apologize for staring. She told me she had two kids in high school and how much she missed that young age. Hey, nobody blames you for watching a kid play at the park. We all envy their joy, I thought. Recently I was teaching Leo how to ride his bike early one morning in an empty parking lot at the baseball fields. An SUV drove in and parked right next to us, the only other car in the lot. I was annoyed as we were just about to get back in the car and now we had to wait for the driver as he unloaded baseball equipment for a private lesson. I saw a Santa Margarita High School sticker on his back window, the high school I taught at for eight years, and asked if his kids went there. He turned out to be the Spanish broadcaster for the Angels, and he lit up telling me his son just graduated from SM, and was drafted in the third round by the Cleveland Indians. He told me, "Appreciate this age. It's the best! I would have had 20 kids if I could have. I's great when they're older too, it just gets more complicated."

I'd be lying if I told you raising a toddler is all roses. That there is no witching hour before dinner, that it doesn't take 20 minutes to brush his teeth, or that there aren't daily meltdowns. But, in between spinning in circles on the floor in a tantrum, there IS a lot of joy. There is lots of smiles and lots of laughing. I'm grateful for the frequent reminders (from strangers and friends alike) that these times won't last forever. With that in mind I'm resolving to live in the moment - like Leo would - not afraid to get my hands dirty, to be covered in chalk, or run through the sprinklers together. One day things will undoubtedly get more complicated, but until then, I'll be taking Leo's lead and living each moment with more joy.

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