Last week, my daughter turned 2. We celebrated her birthday in glorious fashion with the mother of all party themes: doughnuts. As my sweet girl gobbled down her sprinkled confection, I reflected on how much she's grown and changed. In the span of two years, she's gone from a grunting, cooing inert little lump to a walking, talking toddler with her own ideas, thoughts, and feelings. What's more striking, however, is my own transformation. Becoming a mom has changed my life completely. I'm both grateful and pleasantly surprised by the things my daughter taught me before turning 2.
As an experienced teacher and nanny/babysitter-extraordinaire, I thought I would have this parenting thing in the bag form the very beginning and with little-to-no issue whatsoever. Unfortunately, reality gave that idea a big "how about no?" Through trial and error, I learned the practicalities of motherhood, from breastfeeding to diapering to getting my baby to sleep through the night. Honestly though, it's the life lessons my daughter has taught me that have made the greatest impact on me as a person.
OK, so she didn't help me understand quantum physics or appreciate Russian literature, but she did have a thing or two to teach her master's educated mama — lessons I may never have learned without her.
That It Doesn't Matter What Other People Think
Approval from others has always been part of the fuel that keeps me going. What can I say? I really like praise. You know who DGAF what other people think? Toddlers. Hence the heinous Target tantrums. However, it also means they can wear a marinara-stained onesie and one princess shoe to the store and feel awesome.
I've really tried to channel that carefree spirit (as much as my OCD allows), and let me tell you, it's really freeing to go running through the freezer aisle yelling "pizzaaaaaaa!" at the top of your lungs because it makes your kid laugh.
That Persistence Is Everything
Need a lesson in persistence? Watch a baby learn to walk. They will fall down a million times, but like I saw on that oddly inspiring church readerboard, they never think, "This just isn't for me." I've never handled failure well, but damned it my girl isn't inspirational AF. When I was started writing, I was rejected dozens of times, but I kept trying. You know what? One of those places doling out those rejections ended up hiring me.
That A Nap Can Fix A Lot Of Things
To be fair, I've long known the healing power of naps. But the difference between my rested kid and my tired kid is essentially Jekyll and Hyde. So when we're both channelling our inner Dread Grumpus, we have ourselves a little lie-down. I may not get my blog post finished or the laundry folded, but a recharged me is a better mommy to my little girl.
That I Can't Underestimate Her
Watching my kid try and put on her shoes, I must have reached down and then retracted my hands a dozen times. It's so easy to think that she can't do or understand something, but she surprises me with what she's capable of. If I give her a little space, she can put dirty clothes in the hamper, throw away her string cheese wrapper, and carry her bicycle outside to ride. I was so worried when she had only 10 words at 18 months, but just the other day she handed me my glass of wine and said, "Thank you, Mommy." So, um, winning.
That Sometimes You Just Gotta Dance
Yes, I have a project deadline and need to get dinner on the table, but my daughter has needs. Dancing needs, to be exact. I've learned that sometimes you just have drop everything, put on your kid's favorite jams ("Hand Clap" by Fitz and the Tantrums and "Work" by Rihanna because my kid is amazing), and get your groove on.
That Patience Is A Virtue
There's nothing like being a new mom to teach you the importance of deep, cleansing breaths. Whether you're watching your little one eat one pea at a time or reading Goodnight Moon for the millionth time, you're going to need to shore up your stores of patience. But when you can maintain your composure during a full-on public meltdown, you know you can pretty much handle anything.
That I Need To Be Present
By virtue of their developmental level, toddlers very much live in the moment. (Seriously, have you ever tried to explain to a 2 year old that dad will be back from Afghanistan in a year? I don't recommend it.)
Honestly, it's a pretty cool headspace to be in (there's a reason mindfulness is such a popular practice). They are completely engaged in whatever they're doing, whether it's playing at the water table or painstakingly removing every tissue from the box. My daughter has taught me that it's so much easier to enjoy moments when you focus your energies on what's actually in front of you.
That I Should Trust Myself
It's not that I'm not going to f*ck up. I am, but in general, I do know what's best for myself, my daughter, and my family. I see that every day. Sometimes I feel like the worst mom in the world, and then I see my daughter in her room paging through her books and "reading" to herself, and I know I'm doing something right. I've made a lot of hard parenting decisions and not everyone has agreed with them, but my happy, healthy girl tells me I can trust my instincts.
That I Need To Forgive & Forget
Speaking of f*cking up, it's a good thing toddlers come with an amazing capacity for grace. Every parent messes up.
For example, when my daughter was learning to cruise, she figured out how to push a barstool around. I was busy filming her when it fell over on top of her. Not my finest moment. I scooped her up, kissed her head, and told her, "I'm sorry. That was Mommy's fault." She calmed down and went on her merry way. That was an incredible lesson for someone who's known to hold grudges (I'm looking at you, Kenny who pulled my sweater in preschool).
That I Matter
Technically, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie taught me this, but I read her raising a feminist manifesto Dear Ijeawele for my daughter. According to Adichie, the premise of feminism is "I matter." Period. I'm teaching my child that she matters by virtue of her very existence. That means I matter, too. Not because I'm somebody's mother or wife or daughter, but because I am.
Pretty deep stuff for a 2 year old, but what can I say? She's wise beyond her years.