When I used to read parents’ praise to their babies — usually around the time of the kid’s birthday, usually on social media — all those “you are the best thing that ever happened to me” and “I am learning so much from you every day”, I’d chuckle.
Ok, I can believe this baby is the best thing that ever happened to you, but let’s be serious what on Earth are you learning from a one-year-old? How to swallow food without chewing? How to put anything in sight in your mouth? How to get down from a couch head first?
Enter Yulia with a one-year-old.
How do I explain to you, without sounding like the most overused cliche, that my son is indeed the best thing that ever happened to me and that I am learning from him every day? That he is — and, as his mama, I am the most objective judge — the best human being I know. I want to be more like him.
I think at one point in life I was, we all were. But somewhere along the way, in the course of thirty two years, having gone through struggles and pain, having been influenced by people’s opinions and social norms, I lost it. When exactly it happened I can’t tell. Only I am not the cheerful, eyes-wide-open, ever-amused by the world, courageous child that I used to be.
We’ve been reading this book about a bear before bed. It’s in German and starts like this:
Ich mag mich
Ich lebe gern und weiß, was ich will
I like myself
I love to live and I know what I want
I think the whole book is meant to reinforce these simple truths in our children, although our children already know them. Other pages have text like this:
Ich bin toll — I am awesome
Ich bin schön — I am beautiful
Mein Herz ist groß — My heart is big
I need this book for self reassurance more than my son: I repeat these lines in my head, he lives them.
He is the most determined person I’ve seen in my life. If he gets hold of my cream tube — at which point it is impossible to retrieve it — and tries to put it in his mouth, I can push his little hand away from his mouth and sternly say “no” a hundred times, he will proceed to lick it on the one hundred first time anyways.
The most fascinating thing is that he doesn’t get discouraged, annoyed, or upset, he simply keeps bringing the tube to his mouth as many times as needed, until I look away and he achieves his goal.
He never procrastinates. He doesn’t need four alarms to ring in succession every morning to get up. He opens his eyes and he is ready to conquer the world. On the same note, he never wastes his time on such unimportant tasks as getting undressed after a walk outside. I have to run after him and remove one item of clothing at a time, while he is busy trying to switch on a vacuum cleaner or unpack a bag of groceries. One shoe on, winter coat unzipped half way, the hat dragging behind — none of these matter when he’s got stuff to do.
He looks at this world with such amusement and joy that I feel ashamed of how overloaded my life is with entertainment, yet few things trigger those emotions. He sees a dog in the street and smiles. He screams “Hey!” and watches the dog intently, until it disappears around the corner. I scroll through Netflix suggestions for forty minutes before settling on the familiar Gilmore Girls and watching it absent-mindedly, while scrolling through my Instagram feed.
He listens to his body. He eats when he wants to eat, not when he’s feeling stressed or upset. He sleeps when he wants to sleep, not when he exhausted himself by binging a whole season of Queen’s Gambit. He uses his body to crawl, stand, walk, reach, climb, not to sit in front of a computer, on a couch, in a car.
He is brave and vulnerable. The qualities a true leader must possess, according to Brene Brown. I listened to her “Daring Greatly” recently, but didn’t make the connection. And then one fo my favorite mamas to follow on Instagram, Natalia Remish, posted this:
“All we have is braveness.
According to Brene Brown, braveness is what makes a leader, whom other people follow. Vulnerability is what sets apart a leader who can openly talk about his lack of knowledge and experience and ask for help.
Braveness is not when you are not scared of anything, but when you are scared and do it anyways. Vulnerability is not when you are attacking others, but when you speak of your own failures, of your pain.
Our children have it. Every child is born a leader. The fear of climbing on top of a table goes hand-in-hand with overcoming, a broken toy — with tears of desperation.
And then comes upbringing and slowly pushes braveness and vulnerability out. Because “I told you not to touch that!” and “Don’t cry, it’s not a big deal!”
My little fearless and fearful leaders, so earnest in their tantrums and hurt feelings. It may be difficult for me. But stay just so.”
These lines have struck me right in the heart. Whenever did I stop acting despite fear and being vulnerable? I guess on the front of vulnerability not all is lost, as I am writing about my motherhood journey, losing my identity in immigration, and the complicated history of my nation. But braveness I have to work on. I have to learn it from my son.
He has taught me so much in the past year. Ah, the cliches! But aren’t cliches really the truths that have been told over and over again? These truths are worn-out, but this doesn’t make them any less true.
I know now that a one-year-old can teach you how to see the world with eyes wide open, find joy in daily routine, dig up resources within yourself you didn’t think you had, appreciate even fifteen minutes of quiet, become patient, so patient, look at your relations with parents from a new angle, see your partner in a completely new light, take multitasking to a different level, truly feel the taste of good coffee, not give up after a failed try… or three… or fifty three.
But above all, these tiny humans teach us how to love. This year has been filled with so much love like no other year in my life, not even when I fell in love with my husband. Once, when our son was about a month old, my husband asked a question, that really felt more like a statement than a question: “You love him more than me, don’t you?”
I could answer that my love for my husband and for my son are different types of love. But I chose honesty: “I do”. I could die for my son without blinking an eye. When it comes to my husband, there would likely be a moment of hesitation. I’d probably do it anyways, but not without making sure first there are no ways out.