On March 30th,2008, Sunday became “Son Day.” That’s the day my son was born, choosing to arrive a few days early so he could share his birthday with Grandma and Vincent Van Gogh.
I firmly believe that anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles hasn’t witnessed a birth, hasn’t held a newborn baby. Because then you know, absolutely and undoubtedly, that there is hope and faith and magic in the world.
My son is my greatest joy. And he’s proving to be quite a teacher. Here, I share with you the A to Z list of lessons my toddler son has taught me (so far).
A Acknowledge your strength. You are stronger than you think. Our society generally has a limited definition of strength, usually someone who can carry and lift heavy things. Giving birth to my son, taught me I am a strong person. I am physically strong enough to deliver my son without anesthesia. I am mentally strong, focusing on my son’s name as I pushed through contractions and anxiously waited as doctors warned I might require a blood transfusion. I am strong. Strong to pick up my 30+ pound son and lift him “high in the sky.” I am strong enough to leave my son each morning and go to work without crying, wishing I was home with him. And my son’s grip has taught me that toddlers are freakishly-strong; when they want to hold onto something, they will.
B Beauty surrounds us. In the hustle and bustle of adult daily life, we tend to overlook the beauty that naturally exists around us. It’s easier to find when we’re on vacation - at a botanical garden, a majestic monument, a white sand beach. With a baby, that changes. Suddenly everything is beautiful and everything warrants sharing. The beat-red, star-shaped leaf on the sidewalk. The tree, no taller than a basketball player, with pink flowers the color of cotton candy. The full moon, silver like aluminum foil.
C Clothes are over-rated. They’re functional and practical but basically are just coverings for my body so I don’t get cold or stick to a vinyl chair. Ryan doesn’t care what I’m wearing - I’m mommy in my purple pajamas, I’m still mommy when I’m dressed after a day at work. And he’s Ryan, whether he’s walking around in the house in nothing but his socks, or strutting around in his Toy Story shirt and jeans.
D Demonstrate your emotions. Something changes between infancy and adulthood. As a baby, Ryan wasn’t shy about letting us know how he felt. He cried if he was hungry, loudly. He also readily showed us his delight and pleasure at a stuffed animal or a series of kisses on his stomach. As adults, we’ve been trained to keep our emotions in, not always expressing our frustrations or hurt or excitement. Maybe we could learn a thing or two from the little ones in our life - laugh loudly when happy, cry loudly when sad, make your feelings known.
E Eat when you’re hungry. Babies will let you know, in no uncertain terms, when they need to eat. They will stop being happy and quiet and vocalize their need for food. I need to take a cue from Ryan. I often keep plowing ahead, trying to ignore my hunger. As a result, I become grumpy and probably less productive than if I would have stopped and eaten.
F Flexibility is important. Ryan taught me that sometimes, a schedule is nothing more than a suggestion, a possibility of what might happen. That was a hard one for me.
I’m a teacher. I’m used to schedules, routines, plans. As a newborn, Ryan taught me that sometimes babies work on their own schedule. Now, as a toddler, Ryan is teaching me that little people still sometimes work on their own schedule. He might not want to get dressed at the exact moment I’d like him to, but try again in ten minutes.
G Grin, smile, and beam. Little ones have limited vocabulary, but their expressions are priceless. A child’s smile is priceless; there really isn’t anything comparable. LIkewise, sometimes, all it takes to help you make it through the day is a smile - someone you know, or someone you don’t, giving you a smile, that nonverbal, “Hang in there.”
H Hugs are absolutely essential. There’s nothing that quite compares to feeling someone’s arms around you. In that moment, you are safe. You are held and comforted and being taken care of. Sometimes that’s all we need. A time-out with a hug. That simple embrace to calm us and center us.
I Ice cream. A mid-afternoon treat. An after-dinner dessert. A chocolate ice cream that melts on its way from spoon to mouth. A blue-raspberry ice cream that leaves my son’s mouth and teeth the color of a Smurf.
J Juggling isn’t always a good thing. Being a full-time working mom requires a lot of juggling. Sometimes, that juggling is necessary for me to get through the day. Other times. there’s no point. Ryan has taught me (and continues to teach me) that sometimes I have to let a few things go. I have a very small window of opportunity for my son to run into my arms and give me a tight “hug-a-bug.” I have to enjoy those moments while I can and worry about the dishes/the bills/grading papers later.
K Kisses. I constantly tell my son that “Mommies never run out of kisses.” And it’s true. No matter how many I showered upon Ryan yesterday, I’ll have an endless amount awaiting him today, and the day after that, and the day after that. And kisses aren’t just for checks or lips. Kisses are for toes. Kisses are for noses. Kisses are for tushies and ears and fingertips.
L Love. Express it in every way possible. I hope, with all my being, that my son knows I love him. I hope he knows when we’re on the floor playing “squish.” I hope he knows when I’m having conversations with his Mario and Luigi dolls. I hope he knows when I’m away at work. I love my son “a hundred, thousand, million, billion, trillion, gazillon, every minute, of every day.”
M Mingle and meet new people. Children are natural ice-breakers. At shopping centers, other mothers will readily begin conversations - asking my son’s age, asking about our stroller, asking if he has any siblings. Generally, it’s a quick exchange of information. However, as a relatively shy person, these spontaneous conversations were new and unfamiliar to me. New and unfamiliar doesn’t mean bad. It’s a way to meet new people and gather new bits of information.
N No. It seems like “No” becomes a toddler’s favorite word to say. It’s powerful. It can get you out of uncomfortable situations. It can cause confrontation. It gives you a sense of power, a bargaining chip. I don’t always like Ryan’s “no’s.” They’re not always helpful. But they do remind me that sometimes I need to assert myself and say “no” whether the recipient wants to hear it or not.
O Over and over. Do things you like again and again. Listen to songs you enjoy several times. Read the same book, over and over, because it delights you. It’s okay to postpone that feeling of pleasure you derive from a book or a movie or a song, repeat it, enjoy it again. Over and over.
P Praise what you can do. As adults, we often focus on what we can’t do. I can’t roll my R’s, I can’t whistle, I can’t spin a basketball on my index finger. I’m quick to admit these deficiencies while not at all quick to highlight my abilities. I can spend $60 at the market and save $50 with coupons. I can arrange flowers for a wedding. I can drive a car with a manual transmission. With children we celebrate each new learned skill, we marvel at all that our little people are able to accomplish. Each new feat is a true celebration.
Q Quickly - that is how children grow. My parents were always telling me how quickly I grew up. My dad would wonder where his little girl went. I never really understood what my parents were trying to tell me. I do now. My little boy is no longer a baby. And quickly, my little boy will soon evolve into my bigger boy. So we take the pictures, I breathe in his scent, I kiss Ryan’s toes - for all too quickly, those moments will be gone.
R Relieve yourself when you need to. As an infant, Ryan emptied his bladder and bowels whenever he needed to. Whether he was dressed or not, whether I was awake or not, he had to go, and he did. Now, as a toilet-training toddler, we are learning the delicate balance of acknowledging that “feeling” and getting to the restroom on time. As a teacher, “holding it” is a part of the job. But, Ryan’s right, it feels better to go when you need to.
S Sing. When Ryan was an infant, I sang about everything - changing a poopy diaper, getting dressed, going to sleep. As a toddler, we now sing about brushing teeth, cleaning up, and taking a bath. Day-to-day chores don’t seem quite so tedious when you’re singing a cutsie, up-tempo song. It is those songs that bond us; they are ours to share. And when I’m driving, stuck in traffic, I hum and smile when I realize I’ve just been humming the alphabet song.
T Talk out loud. Generally, adults believe they should hold all their thoughts inside. Grown-ups don’t walk around talking to themselves. And if they do, they are usually regarded as strange. But since I became pregnant, I’ve been talking to Ryan - explaining how to cook spaghetti, describing the squirrel racing up the tree, asking his opinion on which earrings I should wear, telling him our day’s activities. I know he didn’t understand me, but I spoke to him anyway. I did it for him, so he would know Mommy’s voice. And I did it for me - there’s something about saying things out loud that is sometimes helpful. Sometimes, there’s just too much information to keep track of in our heads. There’s really nothing wrong with letting some of it out and saying it out loud.
U Upsets happen. People get upset. Things happen. Feelings get hurt, someone is disappointed, things just didn’t go the way we’d hoped. Those upset periods are not always pleasant (whether they’re happening to Ryan or me) but Ryan has taught me that they will pass. Maybe my upsets (a possible unemployment issue) take a little longer to get over than his (spilled bubbles), but they all will pass and we will smile again.
V Velcro. An invention that first proved its usefulness in space, helping to keep the astronauts’ work tools tethered and not floating about the cockpit. For toddlers (and their parents) velcro is a fantastic invention that makes getting shoes on a manageable task. I feel confident in saying that wherever you put velcro (whether its shoes or a diaper bag or a backpack) it’s going to be beneficial.
W White cookies. That’s what Ryan calls Oreos. And, sometimes, it’s okay to eat Oreos, for breakfast. Sometimes we crave something sweet. And after a healthy breakfast of bagel, apple chunks, and Cheerios, Oreos are a sweet dessert treat. “White cookies” are fun to eat for a mid-day snack, simply because there are so many ways to eat them. And, honestly, they are just as fun to eat whether you’re three or thirty-five.
X Xylophones are fun to play. I can’t quite identify the lure of a child’s simple xylophone. However, whether it’s Ryan playing, or his nine year old cousin, or his thirty-five year old father, everyone we have encountered enjoys creating a little tune on his red hand-me-down xylophone.
Y Yucky. Sometimes, that’s the only word that is needed. A yucky in your nose. Hitting is yucky. Trash at the park is yucky. A chunk of watermelon that escapes our grip and falls to the ground isn’t edible any more; it’s yucky. Enough said.
Z Zero tolerance. At school, it a zero-tolerance policy for weapons on campus. As a mommy, I have a zero tolerance for anyone or anything that in anyway threatens my son. Drivers who don’t obey speed limits, restaurant patrons that smoke on the no-smoking patio, pedestrians with a limited vocabulary that employ the “f-word” every two seconds - they all threaten my son in some way. And this otherwise-patient mommy won’t stand for it.