I used to be a little skeptical when I would hear parents say that their children teach them more than they teach their children. Really? I would think. But surely you are teaching your kids SO MUCH STUFF! I mean, they rely on you for EVERYTHING! How could you be learning even more from them??
But I’m learning that old adage just might be true – when it comes to the important stuff, anyway. Sure, we teach our children many practical things – like how to tie their shoes and chew their food and use the potty. And we hope we model love and trust and kindness. But the stuff they teach us, I’m learning, can’t be taught in a class or spelled out in a curriculum. What they teach us are primal, instinctual, JOYFUL lessons about humanity in its purest form. And whether you have an 8th grade reading level or a PhD, their lessons are sure to sharpen your mind and awaken your senses.
Here are 10 things that my (almost) 13-month-old has been teaching me lately:
1. Be content with what you have.
In a world of “bigger, better, faster, louder,” my son has helped me re-discover the magic of small pleasures, quiet moments, and slow rhythms. He doesn’t care about the size of his bedroom or our house, where his clothes come from or if the books on his shelf are on the bestsellers list. He is so happy with exactly what he has – books old and tattered or shiny and new, a gourmet meal or a jar of peas, a dapper suit or hand-me-down pjs. He seems to be in on a secret many of us grown ups have forgotten long, long ago – we have everything we need, and more.
2. Nap when you’re cranky.
Another habit many of us adults long ago abandoned – the healing balm of a mid-day nap. Now I am the first to admit I am an almost nonexistent napper – I could probably count on one hand the number of naps I’ve taken since Anderson was born. To my own detriment, I’m sure. Anderson reminds me of the renewal of sleep, in any increment – it does wonders for our mood, energy, body and mind. We could all use more naps. Even if you don’t fall asleep, just to embrace some stillness and calm in the middle of a busy day can really help to refocus ones perspective.
3. Find joy in sharing.
No matter how excited Anderson is about whatever food he is eating, he is always even MORE excited to share it with our dog, Izzy (who is, in turn, even MORE excited to be eating something other than her dog food of the last seven years). Though half of me knows I should discourage our son from feeding his overpriced baby food to our dog, the other half of me can’t help but smile when I see how giddy with joy he becomes from making her giddy with joy. Am I that excited to share and bring joy to people in my life?
4. Comparing leads to pride or pain.
I just finished reading a fantastic, inspiring book I would recommend to anyone, called The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. In it, she explains that our society teaches us from a young age to “compare and compete.” She explains it is a paradox in that we are taught to be like others, but a little bit better. Often we feel just fine – or even great!- about ourselves until we see what our neighbor/relative/friend has. Babies, on the other hand, couldn’t care less if they’re the best sleeper among their baby friends, or the slowest to walk, or the pickiest eater, or the friendliest. They just are who they are and they haven’t yet been taught to be anything but OK with that.
5. Crawl before you walk.
I love observing the joy Anderson has in crawling. While some babies his age are walking, he is content right where he is, army crawling with the best of ‘em. This mode of transportation works for him right now, and he’ll get to the next step when he’s ready. It reminds me to be present. Whether I’m training for a race, or writing a novel, or decorating a house – crawl before you walk. And don’t just suffer through crawling, embrace it – those first miles or pages or picture frames will surely roll into more. Enjoy the journey.
6. Messiness is liberating.
Ever notice how babies seem to be having the most fun eating when they are making the biggest mess? I think it’s because they’re going all in, fully committing to prioritize their pleasure over all else – a clean face, stain-free clothes or a full plate of food actually in their mouth. They’re going all in and making a mess of it. Go big or go home. It makes me think about how some of the most rewarding experiences in my life involve “going all in” and making a mess. Like working up a big sweat on a hard run, or baking up a storm until my counters are covered in flour. There’s a freedom in letting go of the need to be clean and in control All. The. Time. And babies will tell you it just plain makes life more fun.
7. There is comfort in routine.
Just as there’s a time to make a big old mess, there is also a time (many times a day, typically), to find comfort in the normalizing rhythm and predictability of daily life. Seeing how much Anderson depends on his routine – whether it’s a book before bed or a warm bottle of milk – has made me reconsider and reprioritize components of my own routine. Like Anderson, I feel better and more grounded when I have people I can depend on and earmarked things I can look forward to every day. Molding his routine has challenged me to remake elements of my own.
8. There are too many good books out there to not be reading every day.
For someone who lists two of her highest passions as reading and writing, I can really suck at making time for either/both. I get busy, and I get tired, and I think I’d rather be: (watching TV, making small talk, checking Facebook, fill-in-the-blank…), but more often than not, I’d really rather be reading. I am thrilled that my son loves books. I find joy in building his library, reading to him, and watching him pensively study the pages himself. There is not a day that goes by when his eyes and hands are not all over a book, or ten. It has reconnected me with the sweet pleasure of reading and heightened my commitment to making more time to read.
9. Enjoy your own company.
There is a time to enjoy the company of your friends/family/colleagues/spouse, and there is a time to be totally cool chillin’ on your own. Sometimes I catch Anderson in his playpen, deeply engrossed in his books, toys, socks…. Whatever it is he’s doing, he is perfectly fine spending some time alone figuring it out. I think so often we’re afraid of “missing out” or “slowing down” that we neglect valuable time spent alone, by ourselves, reconnecting with our thoughts and our spirit and our dreams. I am going to Chicago next month, alone. I will be spending some time with a friend who lives there, and I can’t wait for that “girl time,” out on the town indulging in brunches and having one too many margaritas. But I’ll also be spending some of the trip alone and, to be honest, I can’t wait for that, either. As moms, I think we often feel guilt about desiring time for ourselves, away from our children and our spouse. But that time – whether it’s an hour away or a weekend away – is so important. It renews us, and refocuses us, and sharpens our appreciation for home when we return there. So I am excited to be on my own for a bit. For the 4-hour flight to get lost in a novel, for the luxury of taking baths and watching whatever TV I want in my own hotel room, for the stillness and quiet of wandering an art gallery for hours. I know I will miss my family, but I also believe I am worthy of this time to recharge my batteries, and I think we’ll ALL be better for it. I can’t wait.
10. Let love in.
This picture was taken when Anderson was sick, which made him more dependent, lethargic, clingy and cuddly than normal. This picture reminds me that we all need, and desire to be needed. Babies just love, and just let you love them. Who in your life could use your love? Who could you allow to love you more? Sounds simple, but I think sometimes we suppress this most primal need, and Anderson has taught me how sweet it is to just sit back and let love in.