“I want to be a good person,” said Nikolai. “But I don’t always know the best way to do that.”
Little Nikolai was looking for answers to three very important questions:
When is the best time to do things?
Who is the most important one?
What is the right thing to do?
We stopped for a moment before turning the page. I could tell by the look on our son’s face he was thinking about them deeply. “Why don’t we continue reading to see what Nikolai finds out,” as we continued to follow little Nikolai’s journey in Jon J. Muth’s book titled “The Three Questions.”
These questions are still puzzling to me as I continue on my own journey towards meaning. Moments and people have been guideposts in helping me find some direction.
“Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side. This is why we are here.”
As Leo the Turtle’s final message concluded the story, I could tell the idea was a little hard to grasp for our little boy. He gave me a pondering look and I could read his mind.
“What do you think that means, buddy?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” he responded. “Maybe we should read it again later.”
“I’m still trying to figure it out too, buddy,” as he went back to work on creating his stage for his rock concert.
Oh, to be six again. As I watched him run off with a smile on his face, I thought maybe there could be a way to translate some of these ideas from “The Three Questions” into daily practice the kids can learn from?
“He who knows the ‘why’ for his existence, will be able to bear almost any ‘how.’” ~Viktor Frankl
It took 32 years for the “why” to finally take hold within me. I remember the moment when the “why” hit me like a train. The instant a set of piercing blue eyes looked at me as he wailed on the scale at the hospital. The “why” had arrived and announced his presence with authority.
Prior to our son being born (and then his sister three years later), I thought I knew where I was going. But I had no idea. I had a wonderful team of family and friends around me that helped me in my dark days. Days filled with inner feelings that I could never truly explain with the right words. Even as I crept into my thirties, I needed translators to help piece together my thoughts and feelings into words. The best translator was my wife. The mother of this little package. The one who would somehow hear the tone in my voice, see the feeling in my eyes, and grasped whatever it was that needed to come out as we held hands.
Now it was my turn to be the translator. The moments Leo the Turtle described to little Nikolai were the “how.” That Dr. Frankl was referring to.
To interpret the anxiousness. To decode the emotional outbursts. To give a voice to the reservations in a new environments. To describe why simple sorting and ordering can bring balance. How the repetitive nature of an activity can bring inner peace.
I believe we learn so much about ourselves through our own kids. What works in deescalating a conversation. The gentle nudge to take a risk and get over the worry hill. The assuring smile that everything will be ok. Much of our conversations can be a self-talk or mental imagery to help myself.
Just like Nikolai, I want to be a good person. And I am still trying to figure out the best way to do that-all the while helping my children and our students figure out how to be the best version of themselves. My home is that in helping them, the best version of me can grow too.
Here are a few ideas I am going to try with my kids and explorers:
1. Pick up “The Three Questions’ at the library or here. Prior to reading “The Three Questions” have your child write down or draw pictures to Nikolai’s three questions. Afterwards, have another discussion comparing thoughts from the before.
2. For parents and teachers, Dr. Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning” is a must read. If time to sit down to read is difficult, I love audible.com for my commute and walks. I will brainstorm ways to share Dr. Frankl’s incredible story of survival during the Holocaust.
3. At suppertime, share a moment from the day when we made the right choice, with the right person, at the right time.
4. Create a “Kindness Jar” or “Jar of Awesome” and add special moments that can be reflected on at a later time.
5. Have the kids decorate handprints and tell a story of when they lended a friend a hand.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation — we are challenged to change ourselves.” Viktor Frankl
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