A Lesson from My Third Grader

My sister recently took a personality test that was supposed to rank her strengths. She was frustrated that all the “fun stuff” came in last.

I suffered from the same disappointment back in high school. I was really good at grammar. But what high school girl aspires to that when her friends are getting standing ovations in the school musical or scoring the game-winning goal for the lacrosse team?

I wanted to be more interesting. I wanted to make people laugh. I wanted to be good at the “fun stuff.” I was clearly unsuccessful at the time, since some of the boys called me “the Librarian.”

My third grader has been teaching me a lesson about the “fun stuff.” He too wants to be the most interesting guy in the room. He aspires to be the kid who everyone else wants to play with. But he too is good at grammar and multiplication, when what he really wants is to play quarterback in the NFL. Not a likely scenario, he discovered this fall, after dropping out of recess football games when they got too rough.

Like all of us, he wants to be good at the “fun stuff.” The difference is how he responds when he is not.

When he was little, he changed the rules to his advantage so that he stayed at the top of the “fun” game. But his brother and friends have caught on over the years.

Now, he redefines fun.

When he watches sports, he yells and cheers and jumps up and down for every play until everyone in the house finds their way into the room to watch with him, even those not so interested in the game. We want to share in his joy.

When he stays after school to get ahead in the Rocket Math challenge, he talks about it so much and with such enthusiasm, that until he raced through division, a long line of third grade moms were forced to wait in carpool line for their boys well after school ended. Then this spring he turned an assigned book no one wanted to read into the only book anyone wanted to read, just by talking it up.

And when he quit recess football because he was afraid of getting hurt by his more aggressive classmates, he may have been teased by a few, but a few more ended up begging their parents to buy them Puffles (ridiculous stuffed animals inspired by a video game) so they could join his game.

His theory seems to be if you can’t be the best at the “fun stuff”, change what’s fun.

Then be consistent and joyful and welcome all, because when you let them play, they will spread the news – there’s something really fun going on, and I know the kid that’s making it happen.


“Boo!” he yells as enters the preschool classroom, smiling and usually late because he can never find his shoes. His classmates shout his name, laugh, start telling him what he is supposed to be doing. He runs straight to his spot at the table and gets to work.

“I’ll race you to the car!” he yells in the parking lot after school, oblivious to the fact that I am carrying his backpack, lunchbox, water bottle, coat, blue blankie and stuffed animal of the week. “I won!”

When I’m doing laundry, “I want to help!” And he climbs on top of the dryer, slam-dunking each piece of laundry I pull out from the washing machine into the dryer below.

“Can I have a playdate?”

“I love skiing! Can I play soccer? Baseball is my favorite!”

“Can we do it again?”

“This is awesome!”

This is a kid who finds joy in everything he does. What an amazing gift.

One thing. He also loves to make a little noise, bring down the house, all the while charming you with his enthusiasm and big grin. Could be trouble.