After spending the last four years of my life outside of the professional world and deep within the world of toddlers and preschoolers, I've not only unveiled my own insecurities but I've learned some pretty good lessons. These are lessons that we hear of all the time, but once you witness a 2 year-old or 4 year-old effortlessly and unconsciously exemplifying them, only then does it really click! Only then do you realize that your behavior up to now has been a reflection of your fears, as opposed to tapping deep within your inner-child and rediscovering the power of innocence. Here are a few of these life changing mind adjustments that I've learned from my girls so far:
1. Don't hold a grudge
Holding a grudge can be debilitating to say the least. Think back to the last time you had an argument with a spouse or loved one, or a friend, or even the person who cut you off on the freeway. The emotions of anger, betrayal or disappointment are so strong that we find ourselves holding on to them like old scabs and picking at them over and over again.
I'm definitely not talking about serious situations such as abuse or the likes; this is about those times when you know it's not THAT big of a deal, yet you let your ego or pride take over.
The basis of holding a grudge is pretty much non-existent in the hearts of little children.
So many times have I nervously observed the tension and conflict between my toddler and preschooler from afar: 2 year-old Isabella tries to exert her power by pushing or hitting 4 year-old Sophia for no reason at all; Sophia is hurt, uses her ‘loud voice’ to say “no pushing!”, sometimes pushes or hits back, and then one or both end up crying at the top of their lungs. I usually pretend like I did not hear or see anything, and secretly continue observing. When they can’t catch my attention right away, their empathy quickly sets in, and one of them asks the other “What’s wrong? Why are you crying?” Then the other says something about being hurt or not liking something and then the hugging and giggles ensue, as if nothing happened. They quickly revert to their innocent loving selves, and the purity of their love for one another dissipates any sense of animosity.
And more often than I’d like to publicly admit, have I lost my cool and yelled at them. My outbursts usually coincide with my sleep deprivation, including being literally pushed off my own bed by these little dumplings. I am tired, I am cranky, I feel and look like a mushy gooey banana, and here is Sophia, refusing to get into her carseat to make it to an appointment on time.
After a meager attempt to be patient and positive, I lose it and I yell at her to get in the carseat or else!! (I never quite know what I mean by “or else”, but I’m desperate to say something impactful). Tears gather in her eyes, she then puts her little hand on my chest and says, “Mommy take a deep breath. I just wanted to be the driver for a little while.” I MELT! And I start to apologize profusely, kissing her hand, hugging her, smiling and fighting back my own tears. And she responds, “It’s ok Mommy”.
Now, that is the definition of not holding a grudge! In fact, it symbolizes the true definition of ‘letting go’ in the moment, right then and there.
2. Ignore time
'Right then and there' is actually the perfect phrase to summarize this next lesson of simply ignoring time. My personal experience here is actually painfully conflicted. My education and career have always placed an unforgiving importance on the concept of time. Whether it was deadlines to submit assignments starting in elementary school and ending in law school, or whether the timing of serving a legal document on the opposing side made a difference in the outcome of a case, I have always had to bow before Time. And yet, my spiritual discoveries over the past 8 years have convinced me that pure joy, peace and love only exist in the realm of timelessness.
This inner conflict about time seems to be slowly disintegrating, as I spend more time watching my little girls do what they do best, “just be”.
Isabella sucks her thumb. She does it when she wants to go to sleep, when she needs a diaper change, when she is tired, sad, happy or proud of herself. She really does not care when she does it, as long as she is able to self-soothe when she needs it. Recently, at a regular check-up, our pediatric dentist said that research shows the thumb-sucking actually releases a hormone that calms the child, and thus it is more than merely a ‘bad habit’ as some people like to label it. Instead, it is her way of being oblivious to the ‘time of day’ or the ‘proper time’ for soothing herself and allowing her body to take care of itself as it sees fit.
Oblivion to time also occurs frequently, when Sophia chooses to have an emotional outburst (aka tantrum), regardless of the time and place. I have painfully learned that I cannot tell her that her tantrum over not wanting to go to bed at 10:30pm is untimely, since her sister is sleeping upstairs. Instead, I allow her to release her emotions to the final drop! My husband usually runs upstairs and turns on the classical music for Isabella, while I sit patiently, waiting for Sophia to let it all out.
When I am in sync with their timelessness, I am more respectful of their needs and their emotions; I am learning to “just be”.
3. Eat when hungry, stop when full
The dance of timelessness combined with being in tune with your body’s nutritional clock is quite remarkable. It is called mindful eating.
Both Sophia and Isabella are usually the ones to let us know when they are hungry, and to stop eating when they are satiated.
There have been times when Sophia has only wanted her carbs for a few days, and times like now when she leaves her toast untouched and prefers to eat peanut butter, cashews, olives, purple cabbage and/or her meat/fish/chicken instead. Even if she is having her favorite desert, she does stop when she is full and turns in the rest of her uneaten portion.
Little Isabella is exactly the same. She will definitely let me know verbally if she's hungry, and once she's done, she turns it away and says, "no thanks". Both girls also verbalize many times each day if and when they are thirsty for water. I don't need to sweeten or flavor their water or beg them to take a sip.
I have often been told directly or indirectly that I'm not giving them enough to eat at night and more often than I like, have family members, out of the goodness of their hearts, tried to run after the girls just to get them to eat one more bite. I don't allow it. I trust my daughters when it comes to listening to their bodies.
In fact, I am on the verge of pointing out to others that maybe we all (myself included!) need to learn a lesson from these little ones and SERIOUSLY stop eating the moment we are full! For so many years have we been conditioned by cultural norms or societal laziness to eat mindlessly. Some people kindly insist that their guests eat one more serving, and the guests often abide!! Some people will turn on the TV during a family dinner and then wonder why they are constantly struggling with weight issues.
Instead of looking at my children like incomplete puzzles that need my help to be properly nourished, I now prefer to observe them in the moment and let them help me refresh my outlook on my body’s nutritional needs.
4. Embrace nature
The beauty of childhood is that little children still feel connected to nature at a very primitive level. This connection is unfortunately adulterated and jeopardized over time with desensitization through media exposure and association with others who have completely lost their connection with Mother Earth.
So I recently initiated an "electronic fast" at our house ...for the kids. (Yes, yes I see the hypocrisy!) I did this because my mud-pie loving, snail collecting, earth-worm wedding planner Sophia kept preferring to watch TV over going out in the backyard.
I usually let them watch an hour or so each day, just to have semi down-time for myself in my 18 hour workdays. But when I noticed that her fascination with cumulonimbus clouds was being replaced with the Octonauts (though it’s a great cartoon), I had to step in.
The fast was tough for the first few hours of each morning, but now we are back to our tree-hugging selves again. Sophia can be found laying on the grass daydreaming, or saving the snails from mommy's bucket by quickly collecting them and putting them in her "snail garden". Isabella is either picking and smelling lavender and rosemary, or she is talking baby-talk to a little worm that she found somewhere.
Most important of all, I am no longer shrieking at the sight of a huge worm in my vegetable garden or screaming when I find a little spider in my gardening gloves.
Bottom line, the more I watch my children “just be”, the better I feel about myself; I am becoming the child during my moments of observation, in that I am trying to imitate their wild, carefree yet absolutely perfect behavior.