This Wednesday my baby boy (emphasis on baby), probably Hope College’s youngest “student,” will turn one year old. Officially known as Theodore, Teddy has come a long way in the past year. He has doubled his body weight, although that’s really just a gain of 14 pounds. He has learned how to sleep during the nighttime, replacing his luxurious “I’ll sleep whenever I want to sleep” attitude. He has popped out six new teeth, crawls faster than I can, proudly takes a few small steps before toppling over and can even say a few words.
“So what?” you might ask, rolling your eyes. Here’s just another mom going on about her kid. But what I’m really here to tell you is how many things you can learn from someone who is learning how to live without constant parental guidance. Aren’t we all still trying to do the same? Whether we’re calling our parents in tears about an exam or ranting about an argument with your friends or just to talk, the older people in our lives still guide us to make good decisions and offer advice based off of their own mistakes. I think it’s wise to heed what parents and leading figures have to say, and it’s also important to recognize how our habits and lives are shaped from the beginning. A one-year-old baby struggles with lots of the same things we do everyday but also has some habits we can learn from.
Explore new places
“You can do it!” I encouraged Teddy as he looked dubiously into the huge cardboard box his new car seat arrived in. I had thrown his favorite stuffed animal, a caterpillar, deep into the dark corners of the box—I mean this thing is big; it’s like a small cave compared to a baby—and he stared reluctantly after it, looking back at me as if to say “Really Mom? You want me to go all the way back there?”
“Wormy needs to be rescued,” I continued, pointing into the box. Teddy scooched over to the very edge, reaching as far as he could to grab Wormy without going any further than he needed to before quickly yanking him out. I smiled big and clapped for him. “Good job!” I said, and “You did it!” as he turned back to give me a toothy, dimpled grin. All of this joy from exploring a big box on the living room floor.
I hope that everyone has a voice of encouragement when they face dark or unexplored territories in their life. Maybe what you face isn’t saving a special stuffed toy, but finding your passion, making new friends in a new city at a new school or reigniting your faith after walking through a valley of doubt and insecurity. If I hadn’t helped Teddy explore the box, showing him how fun it could be to go inside or play peek-a-boo with the box flaps, he could have lost a fun opportunity to play with something new and learn about “inside” versus “outside.” Not only can unexplored places carry joys, but they can also help you grow and learn.
When you are unsure about a decision, maybe nervous at the prospect of doing something you have never done before, find someone you can rely on to encourage you through the experience and ground you as you navigate the unknown. Take the risk! You never know what you’ll find when you have the courage and curiosity to explore someplace new, whether it’s in your relationships, where you live, your job or your major.
I say “uh oh” constantly. “Uh oh, how did your lunch get on the floor?” “Uh oh, you fell over!” “Uh oh, that’s Mommy’s pencil, not yours,” and the list goes on and on. In fact, Teddy has recently also begun to say “uh oh” when he drops his sippy cup over the edge of his high chair. What a fun game for him!
Really, what fun it is to learn cause and effect, to learn that “Uh oh, when I drop my water on the floor, I can’t reach it anymore, I can’t drink water and someone else has to pick it up for me.” Cue a whimper.
This idea is not revolutionary by any means: we know cause and effect well, and we know that our actions can have negative consequences not only for us but the people we surround ourselves with. Teddy is only illustrating his grasp of an important concept—ownership of his actions. I love that he knows, at least some of the time, that “uh oh” means he didn’t do something quite right, and he announces it to anyone within hearing range.
In a time when ghosting—ending a relationship by suddenly ceasing all communication with no explanation—is a regular occurrence, admitting our mistakes and living through the consequences can be seen as taboo. But who even wants to be ghosted? Not me! Why not just commit to clear communication in the first place, especially with yourself? If a situation gives you the “uh oh” feeling, whether in a relationship or any other realm, invest in some quality communication and value-checking. Are your actions negatively impacting yourself or others? Are you acting in ways that authentically reinforce your person and values? Do you need to say “uh oh” by apologizing, explaining what happened, owning your actions and mistakes so that you can go forward having righted things as best you could? Living up to your “uh ohs” can give you the chance to ask for forgiveness or for help and ultimately move through troubling situations with greater ease.
Pay attention to the little things
My house has wood floors that constantly need to be swept. Anytime a tiny leaf or crumb dares to intrude on Teddy’s territory, it is rigorously examined and usually goes straight into the mouth. He will crawl over to the tiniest speck on the floor, bringing his head just inches away from it, trying his best to use his pincer grasp to pick it up and taste it.
“Don’t eat that!” I’ll cry from the other room, rushing over. “Teddy, it’s literally mud!” He just looks at me with wide eyes, then crawls over to the next most interesting thing.
We can also learn from Teddy’s distasteful practice of eating small things off the floor. Sometimes it’s important to pay attention to the little things in life, like taking a five-minute study break to read some funny memes, or going to pet the cute dog outside of Kilwins. After all, the little things are what make up all the big things. One professor I had puts it this way: “What you do all the time is what you do all the time.” If you spend an hour’s worth of time on social media every day instead of devoting that time to whatever other thing you imagine you’d like to spend time doing, then spending time on social media is what you do. Changing the little things of what you do can shape larger aspects of your life, because the little things you do all the time are what you do all the time.
Practicing little things like smiling to strangers (or at least people you vaguely recognize), holding the door for others or doing some other activity like journaling, reading, exercising or calling your family for just 10 minutes a day, can all add up. You can become friendlier, happier, more fit, more introspective or however you’d like to be by devoting time to the small things that affect your mood.
Don’t be afraid to cry
…Or scream or shout. Teddy does all three daily! While he often screams or cries in unhappiness, he also does so to communicate his needs. Sometimes, he cries from the frustration of not being able to reach a favored toy, but other times he cries because he’s exhausted and needs a break. Again, don’t we all?
While it may not be as acceptable for us to scream and cry when we don’t feel well for whatever reason, we may still feel the need to do so. Teddy is still learning to express his emotions appropriately, and I think it’s important for everyone to remember that it’s a constant battle to do so. And, it’s ok to take a break, cry it out, or just take some time for yourself to gather your thoughts and work through your feelings.
And also, importantly…
Don’t be afraid to show love
Teddy kisses us, anytime, anywhere. They’re not nice little pecks either—he goes all in with a full open mouth because he doesn’t fully understand how to give a kiss on the cheek (or the leg, or the shoulder or the nose). But let me tell you, it is adorable! He giggles and is so proud of himself for giving a kiss; it’s his adorable way of loving on us.
Most of all, remember to show love to those you love. Don’t be afraid to try loving new people and showing that love through small gestures like texts, affirming words or even surprise kisses, just like Teddy.