I’m new at this whole parent thing. Though I read about it and listened to other parents for years, I’ve been surprised by parenthood’s unusual joys. Your baby lighting up at the sight of your face is heart-expanding, but I expected it would be. What has surprised me is not the love that I feel, but the way such a tiny creature forces me to do the things that are good for me.
Babies, I’ve come to believe, are a distillation of humanness in its purest form. They are learning machines, and have not yet accepted the cognitive slop of modern existence in lieu of genuine experience.
My baby does not browse Facebook. He wants to go for a walk at dawn, while the birds are still singing and mist is rising off the lake by our house. I appease him. We get to the lake and sit in quiet observance of the turtles and the wind and the pink hue of the morning sky. A supreme satisfaction seeps in. I wonder, “why haven’t I done this for the past five years I lived here?” Answer: I was wasting time on the internet.
On another day, when the witching hour hits, and my son has tired of the toys and contours of the house, we head outside. I blow the seeds off dandelions, and his eyes light up. I do it again. I pick a flower and put it in his hand. He feels the texture. He’s learning, and he’s content. The sun is setting now, and the beauty strikes me. And, there again is that quiet joy. What would have been doing if my baby hadn’t been fussing? Maybe catching up on The Bachelor?
My son craves a balance of routine and newness. In the quest for newness, I am forced to be creative. To make up silly songs. Or sing songs I haven’t thought about in years. At a red light recently, I found myself belting out “Candle in the Wind” because he wanted to hear something. I’ve danced ridiculously almost every day. I make up stories of my son being an Old West sheriff while I bounce him on my knee because the motion reminds me of riding a horse. I am my son’s trained monkey perhaps, but he’s also a kindly drill sergeant – pushing me toward an ideal that I failed to meet in my pre-kid life.
Kurt Vonnegut reminded us that “Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” In my pre-baby existence, I loved this quote, but struggled to practice its heeding. Because I was afraid of being lousy. Because passivity came more readily than creation. But, my baby doesn’t care that it’s lousy. He cares that he is learning. For him to learn, I must create.
And, when I create, I am more myself.
What are the ways your tiny drill sergeant forces you to self-actualize?