As a mother, I knew that I would be expected to teach my child valuable life lessons. To raise an empathetic, responsible, and curious citizen of the world would be my charge, my responsibility, my social obligation.
What I didn’t realize was that this educational endeavor wasn’t going to be a one-way street. My 22-month-old is a far better teacher than I could ever be for her. She’s reminding me of things that I unlearned at some point in my complex adult life…lessons that are making me a better mom, a better wife, a better friend.
My daughter is teaching me to:
- Be patient. Yes, it takes her forever to put her shoes on all by herself. Yes, our grocery runs take double the amount of time they “should.” Yes, we have hour-long lunches. But the sense of pride from doing things herself, the sensory experience of touching and smelling every vegetable and fruit, the pause that a leisurely mealtime introduces…they are priceless. I have to control the urge to rush her, to assist her, to interrupt her reverie and, when I do, I see the value in being patient with her and myself.
- Live in the moment. I practiced mantras, I purchased essential oils, I went for restorative yoga twice a week but nothing taught me how to live in the here and now as quickly and as effectively as my toddler. Those bubbles won’t float endlessly around the lawn, those fresh-out-of-the-oven-cookies won’t taste the same 10 minutes later, those sand castles might not survive the next wave. The ephemeral nature of all things childhood (and her insistent “Ma, look!”) has taught me the importance of experiencing this unique moment to its fullest.
- Be curious. What’s that black thing following me on sunny days? What happens when I try to run away from it? What happens when I run toward it? Why is it longer than me? Where does it go when we walk under a tree? So many experiments, such fascination, so much to explore and understand! In answering her questions, in expounding upon the earth’s rotation, I find myself asking new questions as well. I’m learning to look up the dictionary more often. Probe regularly. Research habitually.
- Be there 100%. When my daughter plays with me, she expects me to give her complete, undivided attention. It’s not an unfounded expectation. After all, when I talk to her I demand her to make eye contact, listen (not hear), and pay attention to my words and actions. Why must she not get the same respectful consideration? When she’s nursing, I have to remind myself that there is a person attached to my body…a person who will soon outgrow her need to be held…the tweets and Facebook updates can wait. I’m learning to give her my all, one moment at a time.
- Call it like it is. All of us strive to always tell the truth but sometimes white lies slip into our conversations unannounced. When she says, “Too green” or “Too salty” or “Too loud” to my painting/pilaf/guitar-playing, I know she’s being honest. She knows no other way. She isn’t out to hurt my feelings, she’s simply stating what is. Being an empathetically honest person is not a misnomer. It’s possible with practice…and she’s giving me lots of it.
- Be positive. When she flips through our travelogues from yesteryears, she always says, “I go next time with Ma. Daddy come with us. Sit in airplane. All of us have fun.” There’s no wistfulness, no questioning of why she wasn’t cycling amidst endless tulip fields in Amsterdam or snorkeling mid-ocean in Jamaica. Just a simple “next time.” There’s so much hope in those two words. Something to look forward to. Something that separates what isn’t from what can be. Something that I need more of in my life.
- Be content. When she was younger, she could spend hours with a spoon and steel bowl. At almost two years, she does pretend play with stuffed animals, makes robots out of Mega Blocks, spends hours doing “draw draw” and collects pebbles for art projects. We are surrounded by friends whose kids have rooms full of beeping, flashing, talking toys. She never showed interest in them. And I never bought them. The result has been quite revealing: she’s shown me how less can be more; how contentment has nothing to do with external stimuli; how creativity isn’t limited by temperance.
- Be forgiving. It has always been hard for me to forgive and forget, to move on, to bless and release. Despite knowing that I am causing myself more misery by holding on to these negative emotions, I’ve had a hard time implementing the change in myself. When I look at my daughter’s innocent face, her big black eyes filled with wonderment, when I feel her warm embrace, hear her uninhibited laughter, I know that I am placing value on the wrong things. Life is too short to spend any energy on transgressions. She’s teaching me to let it go.