Adult life is complicated and sometimes crappy. In the Curious household, we have hit one of life’s inevitable rough patches over the last few weeks. Nothing too serious, and first-world problems for the most part, but still enough to cause significant stress, exhaustion, and a few tears in both children and adults.
Life is much simpler for my 4-month old, but also sometimes crappy. She eats, sleeps, “eliminates,” smiles, rolls over(!), cries, wiggles, and “talks.” The greater world is equally fascinating and mysterious to her. As a parent, I spend a lot of time watching her as she does her thing. (Not to brag, but I get a lot of smiles.) We observe each other quite closely, and I can’t help but imagine what it’s like to be her.
Infants have a way of reminding us that life—at least the parts that matter—need not be so complicated. Although she cannot tell me in words, my daughter’s actions hint at how she chooses to see and interact with the world. I think I have a lot to re-learn and un-learn from her.
What are some of the lessons she has taught dear old dad in her first 4 months?
As you might guess, I don’t have much of a problem stoking my curiosity. But my daughter’s curiosity radar is on a whole other level, particularly regarding areas in which my curiosity had long ago waned.
In a scene familiar to most parents, she could spend countless minutes staring at a ceiling fan or light fixture. When something catches her attention—a blue wall, the sound of a car engine, the feeling of cold water—I find myself right there with her, taking a second look through her eyes. I constantly remind myself that she is experiencing the world for the very first time in her life.
Pay attention to others
When I speak, my daughter studies my face like my dog studies a peanut butter and banana sandwich: with laser focus and intensity. She’s learning to one day speak herself, and developing the wordless emotional language—facial expressions and body language—we humans use to communicate when we interact. Evolutionarily, this is critical to her social integration with others of her species.
I don’t have the world’s highest emotional intelligence (also known as EQ). There is evidence that emotional intelligence can improve, even in adult life, and my daughter inspires me to work on mine. Paying more attention to the emotional currents of a conversation—right there in plain sight—can do nothing but enhance the conversation for me and whomever I am talking to.
Spend some time on the ground
Once past a certain age—maybe 25 or 30—the time adults spend physically on the ground drops precipitously, and that’s a darn shame. The ground is a great place to stretch out, roll around, and play. My daughter actually enjoys the infamous-in-infant-circles tummy time; it is her position of choice, and she’ll roll to it when placed on her back.
There is something, well, grounding about getting down and dirty on the ground. I endeavor to regularly find a piece of real estate, inside or outside, and get down on it—preferably with my kids.
Try something new
Almost every minute of every day, my daughter is experiencing something new. Sunlight is warming her feet. Her brother is singing a song. Boogers are running into her mouth (I didn’t say it was all good).
With enough effort and attention, I could also do at least one new thing each day. It might be something as simple as driving down a new street on the way home from work, or as involved as starting to meditate. The mind and body have a lot to gain from novel experience.
Let people know how I’m feeling
Young children do not conceal their emotions. I know when my kids are happy, sad, mad, and anything in between. More, they want me to know how they are feeling.
As adults, we learn to tamp down our emotions. For the most part, this is a good thing: the world would be much more chaotic if, for example, I cried and stomped my feet when my soy latte order was bungled at Starbucks.
But what we don’t express outwardly, we still feel inside, and others cannot know how we feel unless we tell them. When we don’t communicate effectively, misunderstanding and hurt feelings often follow. While I don’t especially want to cry more at work, I do strive to express my emotions more freely and frequently with those around me.
If I get frustrated using chopsticks or trying to play the guitar, a quick look at my daughter is a reminder how far I have come since being a baby. At 4 months, she has but a modicum of control over her gross and fine motor skills. But that does not stop her from trying the hell out of something she wants to do. Her frustration threshold is incredibly high.
Unfortunately, I have historically possessed a low frustration threshold. Most adults, I think, are less likely to persist with some skill at which they are absolutely dreadful to begin with. When I watch my daughter—and realize that she keeps at a frustrating task longer than I would at an equally frustrating one—I am baby-shamed into trying harder next time.
Baby “singing,” i.e. cooing, is just so darn cute. I’m not sure if my daughter’s caterwauling is a direct imitation my singing or a call to the wild turkeys in our neighborhood, but it’s loud.
Regardless, I’m impressed when she let’s it rip, allowing her voice to drift wherever it will—usually an octave above the comfort zone of my ears. Often I let her take the lead and try to match her tune, which must be a disturbing duet for anyone within earshot. The resulting sonic display is much less important than the joy both of us feel from our time “singing” together.
Life is always throwing curveballs at babies. One moment they are drifting off to sleep in the car, the next they awake to find themselves face-to-face with a Bengal tiger (at the zoo, people). For the most part, my daughter—and I think most infants—go with the flow. They don’t have much of a choice in the matter. Wherever mom and dad go, babies generally come along for the ride.
We adults like to think we are flexible, but I doubt most of us would appreciate the lack of control over one’s activities that is the life of a baby. I, for one, find comfort in a regular, predictable schedule. But not infrequently, life messes up that schedule, and during those times it helps to possess the mental flexibility to absorb the change. My wife would tell you that I struggle (massively?) with staying flexible in these moments, but I’m working on it.
Also, like most babies, my daughter is literally very flexible; she can eat her own toes, for God’s sake. This reminds me I need to stretch more.
I’m very biased, but my daughter has a superb smile. It’s one of those wide-open-mouth, drooly smiles that babies do best. It lights up the room and her parents’ hearts.
Even before my children were born, I had been making efforts to smile more. I noticed how good it made me feel when others sent a smile my way. To my dismay, I realized that—although I felt happy on the inside—my “thinking face” often appeared too serious or even annoyed.
So, I try to smile more. And my daughter only further emphasizes the need for more smiles in my life, and in the world in general.
What lessons do you take from you children? What do they do better than you?