Lessons My Toddler Teaches Me

Before Jahanara turned two, I decided I was not going to ever roll my eyes at one of her tantrums and say resignedly, "Terrible twos!" Instead, I coined the term "Terrific twos," because it's all about how you see it, right? Wrong! I witnessed a spectacular melt-down today all because I spilled some water on the table and followed this unbelievably clumsy act with more serious crimes, like giving my daughter the wrong bowl and the wrong snack and saying all the wrong things, "No, I will not give you such-and-such until you say 'please'!" What I observed after she had calmed down and was happily singing along one of the songs of The Fresh Beat Band and eating her dinner is that toddlers have immense stores of will-power. If I were still as angry as I was this afternoon during the tantrum, I would have said that toddlers are amazingly stubborn. However, we have reached a mutual truce, I have been given lots of conciliatory kisses and have also been rewarded with finished dinner and dessert, so I am feeling generous. My daughter has great, indefatigable will-power with strong lungs to support her in all her quests allowing her to be heard and understood, loud and clear. She knows what she wants and she knows she wants it NOW! 

Conceivably, I also had bottomless treasure troves of will-power when I was two (and probably for a long time after that when it came to a certain book I wanted, or a midnight meal, et cetera). What happened to all that determination? Why is it that now when I make plans, I am not always able to see them through? Exhaustion is one excuse - I possibly have too much going on and cannot focus all my will-power solely on achieving a particular goal, but if I had half the tenacity that my daughter possesses, I would post here more often, I would walk around the neighborhood every day, I would eat well, sleep well, and generally live well - essentially, I would do everything I claim to want.

Incidentally, I was talking to a writer friend of mine about the importance of having a writing group. It is absolutely essential for me to have people in my life who can hold me accountable to the things I want to do - so clearly, I don't have enough determination to write every day. Often, I wait until Rebecca says in a mock-annoyed voice, "You know, I have been waiting for a blog post" to let myself realize, "Oh, right, it's been how many days since the last post?" Writers certainly need their tribe, people they trust and who are invested in their success to keep them moving forward, plugging away at their stories, their poems. At the same time, we love self-flagellation. We love to count the number of ways in which we fail. Our nerve often wanes before our will-power does, and then the latter, too, fizzles out like an a flame extinguished unceremoniously. This is something toddlers never do. They are tenacious little humans, demanding what they want with all the might in their small bodies - and they use their bodies creatively to display their demands: they shake themselves, thrash on the floor, roll around, hang on to anything - a parent's arm, the refrigerator door - very creative even in the midst of a complete emotional catastrophe. Then, they either get what they want if the parent admits defeat, or they get distracted if the parent has enough energy to tap into sources of diversion (Look, baby! Elmo!), or they tire themselves out and decide to get on with their lives (or, more accurately, they decide to conserve their energy for an admirable battle later in the day so that the parent's nerves are fried to perfection - golden brown and caramelized). In any case, they move on and are perfectly happy to do so. There is no sense of failure. There is most certainly no self-loathing. The outcome of the toddler's willful behavior regardless of whether she achieved her desired results or not is always the same: She moves on.

And so, motherhood teaches me yet another important lesson - to take a page from Jahan's proverbial book. Exercise more will-power. Try to be consumed by a singular focus - writing, for example, or eating healthy meals - and go after it with a kind of possessed madness. And if by chance or by design, I am unsuccessful on a given day, I should simply take a deep breath and move on. Tomorrow is another day after all, a brand new morning for terrific tenaciousness.

Photos by Rebecca McCue