It's true what they say about our kids: we learn more from them than we will ever teach them. Every day that I spend with my 18-month-old son is not only a lesson on how I can be a better parent, but how I can just be a better person. Here are just a few things that I have learned from watching, parenting, and loving our little toddler, Johnny.
1. You don't need to know the words to sing along.
At 18 months, Johnny's vocabulary is expanding every day. He isn't exactly expressive enough to be reciting Shakespeare, but he has reached a stage of development in which he still wants to engage in the rhythm of conversation.
We have caught him many times pointing at objects going "DUHH, OOO, Nee" as if he is counting without knowing the words for numbers or fully grasping the concepts behind numbers. On other occasions he will babble along to music that is either played on the radio in the car or that we are singing to him. Again, he doesn't know the words, but he knows that that only way to learn the language is to fail at it until he gets it right.
Too often in my adult life I have hesitated because I didn't feel fully prepared. I have held back because I didn't think I knew all of what was required of me. I have chosen not to start because I didn't know if I could do it perfectly. Johnny has reminded me that it's okay to get it wrong the first few times in order to practice. With practice I can make perfect, if I only dare to start practicing.
2. Most stress goes away with a hug and a kiss
Adults and kids both get riled up about the littlest things. Just the other day, we witnessed a complete meltdown because we didn't want Johnny using his fork to stir the milk in his cup. He was literally crying over spilt milk! … Or I guess the fact that we stopped him from spilling the milk.
In the midst of this, my wife picks him up, holds him in her arms, and kisses the top of his head. The tears stopped flowing and he let out a big sigh. I brought him a bottle of milk, which he took, and the tantrum was over.
Kids trip, fall and scream all of the time. Being a toddler is frustrating because as cognitive abilities grow, the words and physical abilities to express them do not always develop at the same rate. Being a young person in this world is like being the new person at work. Everything takes longer, you don't fully understand the language and culture at the office and you can't figure out where they hide all the supplies you need to do your job.
At the end of some of our very stressful days, maybe in lieu of a freak-out, perhaps it would be better to find someone who can hold us, or provide us with affection.
3. What makes us most happy is when we are all together with those we love most
We were in Italy, for a week, which meant a week away from Johnny, who stayed with his grandparents. As he was playing with his toys on our first morning back home, he came over to me, pulled my leg and dragged me over to join him. He moved a pillow in just the right place for me to sit next to him. Standing up after only a moment, he rushed back to my wife and grabbed her arm to come as well. She joined us by the pillow and we all sat there together on the floor.
Johnny started laughing, giggling uncontrollably as if he had just received some life-changing news. He was ecstatic just to be sitting with the people he loved most -- Mom and Dad. That was the moment in his day that brought him the most joy after being apart from us for a whole week.
I find myself searching for so many ways to entertain us and make our moments seem more special. I buy things, I take us places and I schedule activities. It's hard not to get caught up in all the things at my disposal that I might consume or do. Johnny reminds me that if I really just want to be happy, I have everything -- or everyone -- right there. I just need to make the time to sit down with them.
4. Whenever you hear music, just dance!
For Johnny, where there is music there is dancing. Last weekend, a new Chanukah compilation was an opportunity to grab a giant stuffed bear and trot around the living room. Even a phone ringing or alarm buzzing has enough of a beat for Johnny to start moving. Music brings such joy and helps him find new ways to wiggle his tiny body. The more he dances, the more he smiles and shrieks with delight.
At first I used to wonder how he had such great rhythm. Clearly, he couldn't have gotten it from either of his parents. (True story: we actually both hurt ourselves taking a beginners salsa lesson because we were so out of sync with the music.) But then, when I really thought about it, I wondered if we just lost that rhythm somewhere along the way, because unlike Johnny, we got scared about how we looked or what people might think. With that realization, I found myself eager to join my little one in his dancing escapades and found out what was making him so happy.
5. Run, don't walk through life.
We always like to tell people that Johnny never learned to walk; he learned to run first and figured out how to slow down later. A lot of kids love nothing more than to find a big open field, a long sidewalk or huge playground with space to just ratchet those little legs up to top speed. It's exhausting to keep up with and also inspiring to know how fearlessly fast this little one wants to go.
My life moves fast. Every moment is truly gone before I have a chance to know it even existed. I can either choose to work against nature and fight to slow it down or jump on the rollercoaster and move at the speed of life. With that notion, I am most grateful I have my baby boy in front of me, leading the charge.