As new parents, we assume all the responsibility for teaching lies with us; in many ways it does. After all, we’ve lived longer than our babies. We know how water faucets and doors work. The flip-side of familiarity, of course, is blindness and the chance to be distracted and bogged down by the petty and unimportant.
The beauty of a new baby is the opportunity to be excited by swooshing vertical blinds and crinkling paper all over again. Everything thrills and deserves study, and if you’re lucky to have a teacher like my Lila, you find you can learn plenty.
1. First things first, second things never. Lila is a cheerful baby, recognizable by her ear-to-ear grin. However, if she misses a nap or has to wait too long to eat – say, while we’re driving somewhere – her sweet temper can be displaced by miserable screaming. So, we’ve learned to stay focused on what matters. Every day, I concentrate on ensuring that Lila naps and eats, according to her body’s schedule. With that, everything else hums along.
2. Every day is special. I never liked mornings, but now, it’s a treat to see and hold Lila, who always flashes her smile. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Monday or a Friday. Every day is another opportunity to play. Be grateful for every day.
3. Lead with a smile. Smiling is infectious. There’s nothing like seeing Lila beaming to make grumpy commuters smile at us on the Metro. More effective than department store make-up, a smile lights up your face and distracts people from any raccoon eyes spawned by late nights.
4. Be persistent. The best way to master a new skill is to practice relentlessly. As adults, we sometimes forget that it takes time to become expert. Lila charmingly has no such expectations for herself. When she decided she wanted to move across the living room, she started with Plank Pose and jumped forward stiffly (a new Yoga pose I dubbed “Flying Plank”). From there, she progressed to scooting and crawling, all at her own pace. If you want to develop a flair for something, practice without an eye on the clock.
5. Develop resilience. Life involves hardship; there’s no avoiding it. Our best solution is become resilient, which Lila is already doing. I marvel, as I watch her practice standing, inevitably tipping over, often backwards, and sometimes headfirst into a table leg. Occasionally she cries – mostly seeming startled – but she’s always lunges right back toward the box or chair, pulling herself up yet again. Don’t let trips and falls ruffle your feathers; keep going.
6. Push your limits. Everyone has a comfort zone, and leaving it is hard. However, it can also be fun. Lila amuses by constantly finding new things to try and explore. Her latest athletic invention is leaping off the My Brest Friend pillow post-feeding onto the couch, then crawling to the other end and peering over the curved edge, giggling all the way. If I weren’t fast on my feet, she’d leap onto the floor too. Look beyond the edges of your known world. That way may lie fun.
7. Be joyful. Nothing makes Lila happier than singing. When she cries, it’s the fastest remedy, and when she’s happy, there’s nothing more likely to elicit squeals of joy, except maybe dancing. Having an audience makes both singing and dancing more fun, and both add lightness to any day. Sing or dance daily; music makes even the gloomiest day brighter.
8. Be a change agent. Presumably, there are things you don’t like about your life. The question is what you do about them. Lila has already decided to be proactive. While she still can’t vote with her feet, she has already learned to remove herself from situations she dislikes. For example, increasingly, diaper and wardrobe changes involve Lila’s rolling or crawling away. I know she’d rather be tugging at wires in the wall or pulling the doorstop to hear it vibrating. So, I persist, trying mightily to quickly finish the change at hand, but so does Lila. If there’s something you dislike, move on or try to change it.
These are important lessons for a parent, and I envision many more to come. After all, Lila still can’t speak. If she could, I imagine she’d quote Rabbi Hillel, citing him as her personal inspiration: “I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing.”