Though my 7 month old daughter has yet to utter an intelligible word, she’s already taught me more about myself in those 7 short months than I could have ever imagined possible.
Normally, we’re able to recognize how we’ve changed as people when we think back on who we were months, especially years, ago: I used to hate peas as a child, but now I’ve grown to love them as an adult; Darrin and I have become even closer in our relationship than we were on our wedding day five years ago. It’s easier to recognize changes within ourselves when we look back on who we were over a long period of time.
But there are moments in life that completely mess with this idea.
Becoming a parent is one of them.
It’s an event that allows you to pinpoint the exact day, hour, and minute when you suddenly became a different person. The change happens as quickly as someone flipping on a light switch, and the elements of the room you thought you knew so well in the dark are suddenly illuminated; they look similar to what you knew before, but also completely different. And for a while you have to squint until your eyes adjust to this new “you.”
Mom-life is a wild and crazy ride. And it feels like Olivia is constantly shedding light on aspects of this “new me” that my old self wouldn’t have noticed.
Here are 10 lessons that Olivia has taught me during these past 7 months (in no particular order), and I think that they’re lessons that could be beneficial for everyone (parents and non-parents alike):
We All Need Community:
Olivia, obviously, depends on me for a lot of things. Food, clothing, shelter, the almost hourly diaper change…she needs both me and Darrin to help her grow in this world. Funny how that dependence on others was something I also needed when I was trying to figure out my rhythm as a new mom. Community is a good thing. And as much as we like to champion individualism in this country, we can’t forget about the beauty of being a part of a community of people you can depend on. Especially when you need them.
Acknowledge Your Shortcomings and Ask for Help:
Olivia knows that she doesn’t have the muscle strength to stand up on her own, but she loves to stand nonetheless. Once she’s tired of sitting on the floor, she’ll throw her body back onto my lap and extend her arms, a move that tells me she wants to stand but needs my help. I’ll lift her up with my hands underneath her arms and help her balance on her feet, causing her to giggle and stomp with excitement. She knows that she can’t stand on her own, but she can get closer to standing with a little help from me. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Be Honest and Open to Emotion:
For better or for worse, whenever Olivia is feeling uncomfortable around certain people or in certain places, she’ll stick out her bottom lip in a pouty face that will usually lead to tears if her situation does not change. She’s honest—brutally and sometimes awkwardly honest. And she wears her emotions on her sleeve. We learn how to lie and how to keep our emotions under control as we grow older. But this world is filled with circumstances that should make us cry; circumstances that demand we point out problems with honesty and clarity.
Find Wonder in the Ordinary:
I spent 20 minutes the other afternoon on our kitchen floor, listening to Olivia bang a measuring cup against an upside soup pot. She’d bang the cup against the pot, pause, then pass the cup back and forth between her hands as if to examine just where on the cup the sound was coming from. Finding no source for the sound on the measuring cup, she’d bang the pot again, causing the whole examination process to start over again. Olivia enjoys her loud light-up toys, but she is mostly fascinated with ordinary things: the tags on her stuffed animals, the strings hanging from Darrin’s sweatshirt, grass, a measuring cup hitting a soup pot. Even the smallest of things matters and has a fascinating purpose. How awesome would life be if we made a daily effort to find wonder in those things we so easily label “ordinary.”
Be Eager to Learn:
Olivia wants to grab everything. Touch everything. Taste everything. Reach and stretch and throw her body towards anything she finds even the least bit fascinating. I can see her brain working a mile a minute as she explores her surroundings, and I can’t help but admire her eagerness to learn. A desire to learn is also a desire to adventure—to place yourself in the unknown in order to discover new things and rejuvenate your understanding of the world. Babies do this on a daily basis. Why shouldn’t we?
Test your Limits:
For the past few weeks, Olivia has been so close to crawling. She’ll get onto her hands and knees and move back and forth on her haunches, but then she’ll drop to her tummy and roll over, often times throwing her pudgy body onto anything that might be in her way. Every milestone Olivia has reached has been the result of her testing her limits—sometimes literally throwing her body around to see if she can find her balance. Sure, she’s bonked her head against the couch or has rolled her body over a few uncomfortable toys, but she’s survived. And she’s encouraged me to test my own limits to see if I’ve really just been holding myself back.
Set Aside Time to Rest:
Olivia is a much happier baby after she’s napped. After she’s allowed her developing brain and body to take a break and recharge. And honestly, I’m a much happier mama after I’ve set aside time to rest. To turn off my phone. To quiet my racing mind. And to just take a deep breath. Olivia can’t learn, explore, or challenge herself effectively if she hasn’t taken time to rest—and honestly, neither can we, as much as we like to think we “thrive” in life’s busyness. So make like a baby and rest. Do it. I dare you.
Embrace the Messy:
Babies disrupt our neat and orderly adult lives, and lots of people avoid having kids (or just avoid kids in general) for this exact reason. Babies are messy. Toddlers are impulsive. Kids are unorganized and adventurous. Obviously I like my adult world “put-together”; I like knowing that everything has its rightful place in my little world and can be easily controlled, managed, and logically understood. Olivia’s offers the exact opposite. One of her favorite activities seems to be tossing her toys all over the living room floor and then whining when they’re too far out of her reach. She’ll do her best to knock anything and everything off her high chair table and look at me with a smile once her toy (or bowl of baby carrots) hits the floor. Some days she’ll impressively cover at least three of my shirts in spit up. Babies are messy. They make life messy. But messy can be good. Unknown, uncontrollable, exciting, and good.
I don’t necessarily mean follow Olivia’s lead and put your foot in your mouth, as impressive as that might be. What I do mean is that babies are more than just physically flexible. They’re also figuratively flexible: they know that much of their life is out of their control. Sometimes they have to be carted from one family event to another when they’d rather just sleep. Sometimes they’re fed mushy green beans when they’d prefer to eat mushy apples instead. There are moments in life that will not go according to plan, and we can either cry about it until we’re (in Olivia’s case) red in the face, or we can find time to sleep in the car…maybe even open our mouth just a tiny bit and allow a spoonful of green beans to spill through. Being flexible is not always enjoyable, but it can help us make a pitcher of lemonade from some of life’s lemons
Laugh and Smile:
One of the easiest ways to make a person smile is to give them a smiley and giggly baby to hold. Baby smiles and giggles are like yawns: when a baby smiles and laughs, you can’t help but do the same yourself. A small smirk from Olivia can turn my entire mood around. We adults can be so serious sometimes. And being serious is exhausting. So spend some time laughing today. Smile at the people around you. Spread some simple joy. I mean, if babies can do it, it must be easy, right?
I think it’s funny how this “infant stage” of Olivia’s life is riddled with a lot of “adult” lessons, and I can only imagine what the next stage of her life will bring. How have you learned from your own kids? Or from your nieces or nephews? What other life lessons should we add to this list? Babies are constantly learning from those around them…why don’t we do the same?