Being an aunt is something that is very close to my heart, and though we’re in different provinces at present, I’m celebrating the birthday of my nephew today. Sharing stories over pancake and berries breakfasts, whispering at 4 am during weekend sleepovers, drawing pictures and reading books together, and just generally witnessing a child develop from an infant into someone with speech, opinions, and a definite personality is a fascinating and blessed process. (At the end of this post is a list I wrote for terry.ubc.ca when my nephew turned one of the lessons I’ve learnt during his first year. The lessons are still true, so I’ve reposted them here)
He isn’t alone on the fantastic child list though. During my trip to Singapore last month, I kept running into wonderful kids who inspired me with their curiosity and intellect. I passed by a travel store one day with a giant globe at its entrance, and two siblings who were probably 9 and 11 years old were quizzing each other of their knowledge of tiny countries, and trying to map out flight routes. They were struggling to find a few countries, and we struck up a conversation. The next day I was on the MRT and a mum and her son of about ten years of age were talking about Google, what a googol is, and how that relates to what the search engine intended to do at the outset of its creation.
It reminded me of other kids I’ve met from time to time who have qualities that I wished schools and cities cultivated within all young people: voracious reading, tremendous curiosity, and an ability to figure out answers to questions that puzzle them. Imagine what communities would look like if we planned them (and budgeting priorities) with the learning needs and experiences of the youngest members of cities in mind. Then imagine where you live at present. Though some places are better than others, there is still so so much that we need to do.
Life Lessons From A One Year Old
1) Disappointments are to be experienced intensely, mourned briefly, and then forgotten. Failure should not hinder one from trying and trying again.
2) People are fascinating. Seek them out. Be unafraid to start conversations. To smile. To wave hello to your neighbours. Make a habit of constantly expressing your delight that you are in the company of others, and the recipient of their attention.
3) Relish solitude. You need time every day to wander, to think, to explore and simply figure things out. To try new things. Protest fiercely when others encroach on this time.
4) Make amends quickly. When you keep others up at night or leave them exhausted during the day, make sure you make up for it with a contrite smile and a heart softening cuddle. Have a sunshiny disposition that makes it impossible to remain irritated with you.
5) The world is your playground, discover it actively. In every situation, there are things to be explored and learnt, touched and tasted. Have a healthy sense of curiosity about your surroundings. Be a scientist in the world. Experiment, challenge, test, test again, revise your assumptions, store that knowledge away, and repeat this process continuously.
6) Be heard. If you have an opinion, share it. If you aren’t understood at first, persist until you’ve conveyed your point of view. Learn new languages to speak to ever widening circles of people.
7) Seek support and comfort from those around you. When you fall and stumble, touch base to feel better, and then return to your adventure-seeking, knowledge-desiring, happy state.
8 Embrace your inner artist. Express yourself, and don’t let limitations of ability and skill deter you from enjoying colours and textures and different art forms.
9) Savour tastes and smells and textures. Enjoy each morsel. Chew slowly. Explore new foods. Try what others are having. Chase after new experiences.
10) Wake up completely thrilled about the day ahead. Stand up, laugh, and become excited and energised about the big adventures that await you. Nap when needed.
11) Touch the world, and be in touch with nature. Splash in water. Watch birds. Stop and say hello to puppies. Jump on grass. Stare at trees. Be conscious of the fact that the world is awesome, and spend some time every day marveling at its wonders. Don’t let a day go by without some time outdoors.
12) Don’t hold grudges. When someone trips over you, or makes a mistake, have a good cry, but don’t let bad experiences or moments impact your trust of others as a whole.
13) Laugh heartily. Laugh often.
14) Seek new goals constantly. Be hungry to learn and grow and develop. Be persistent. Spend lots of time with others who are more skilled than you-it creates an environment where you are naturally constantly trying to stretch and increase your abilities.
15) Assert your independence. Don’t let others do things for you too often. Push people away who prevent you from learning.
16) When you make a mess, clean it up.
17) Dance when music plays. In fact, make time for movement every day. After spending any length of time being stationary, or eating large amounts of food, race around, climb things, and revel in your ability to move and reach and run and stand.
And lastly…be confident. Babies have personalities. They come into the world with their own idiosyncrasies and habits and little quirks, and when you hear mothers talk about their children, they speak about the things that he/she likes and doesn’t like, prefers and doesn’t prefer, and what their habits tend to be. And yet, a year earlier, the little person didn’t exist. Obviously I’m not the first writer to reflect on the miracle of birth, but it is something to keep in mind as we strive for things and get discouraged and get disappointed at times: that perhaps the simple fact we exist, that we come into the world with such a definite sense of self, means that one must chase and seek and find meaning. We are too astonishing to not seize the day, to not make what we can of our lives and experiences, and to not reach out to others and create social change.