I'm writing this from California's Bay Area, where my wife and I have been visiting our 3-year-old granddaughter -- oh, and of course, her parents. Ah, the wonders of retirement.
It's been 30 years since we had a 3-year-old of our own running about the house, and I must confess to having forgotten what that experience is like. So here are some gentle reminders for those who, like me, have been away from the preschool set for a long time.
First, there's no need for an alarm clock. I brought one with me, but have not used it, since Stella faithfully wakes us up early -- and I do mean early -- each day. In fact, she wakes up the whole house, for when she's up, everyone's up.
Next, I've discovered that "E = mc squared" actually means "Energy = Mass of Candy to the second power." At Stella's birthday party, at a local park and playground, she and her fellow tykes ran around, jumped, swung, slid and otherwise put their parents and grandparents to shame with their endless movement. Things slowed down later, but only until the bakery cake with rich, creamy frosting was served. Sugar highs set in immediately, and the kids were off romping and stomping all over again, while grown-ups sat and watched in amazement.
I've also learned that, despite my long career as a professor of literature, books such as "Great Expectations," "The Turn of the Screw" or "Mrs. Dalloway" are highly overrated. They pale in comparison to such searing narratives as "Arthur's Reading Race," "When I Feel Angry" or "Where Is Elmo's Blanket?" As proof, Stella has committed most of these stories to memory, something I've yet to accomplish with Charles Dickens, Henry James or Virginia Woolf.
Stella has taught me that sitting in an easy chair is passe. Each time I do so, she insists that I get up and attend her tea party or help set up her Thomas train tracks. She's also given me lessons in art, as her abstract expressionist drawings and cubist Play-Doh designs adorn the refrigerator and decorate the house. Who wants to watch a video once when you can view "Dora the Explorer" over and over and over again? And only a fool would sit like a couch potato and watch when Dora invites you to get up and imitate her exotic dances. Bath time used to seem like a chore until Stella taught me to fill the tub with toys, erasable crayons and various pieces of used Tupperware. I've also learned the value of asking to stay in the water for "two more minutes," though I refuse to follow her example of parading about the house naked while drying off. Having trouble keeping a conversation going? Simply follow the 3- year-old's "why?" game. When stopping at a gas station for instance, ask why we're stopping, why the tank is empty, why we need gas, why we have to stop here to get it and so on. And if your parents refuse to listen, call 1-800-GRANDPA. My sister-in-law recently gave us a wall hanging that reads "Grandparents -- So Simple to Use, Even a Child Can Do It." Stella's proven that, and though I collapse on the sofa at the end of each day wondering how parents can keep this up 24/7, there's no doubt in my mind that it's worth every minute.