I’ve loved my son since before he was even born. When he was barely a zygote, I had hopes and dreams and prayers for the life growing inside of my belly. Since then, he has become more beautiful and amazing in my eyes as each day goes by. But it wasn’t until recently that I realized that I want to be more like him. He has qualities (which many toddlers share, I’m sure) that are completely inspiring. I consciously decided today that I am going to try to be more like this little person.
As the wife of a firefighter, I think about bravery a lot. Everyone has fears, but the brave are the ones who move past their fear to do what’s important. While firefighters and other obvious heroes show us their bravery when the situation arises, I see my toddler use his courage multiple times a day.
A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to learn to box jump. That is, when you go from a standing position to jump with both legs together onto an object in front of you.
So one night, as we arrived home from walking the dog, Bobby encouraged me to go for it and jump onto the bed of his truck. I got in position. I squatted down low. And I froze. I was scared. I didn’t think my body could do it, and I didn’t want to get hurt. After some coaxing, Bobby got me to try. But I half-butted it. I didn’t try hard and bailed at the last second over and over again, thinking I was about to fail. After a while, it started to get dark and we headed inside. But I couldn’t get my mind off of my failed attempts. Finally, I rose from the couch where we were watching TV before bed and I went outside and did the dang thing. I took a deep breath and gave it my all. And I’ll be darned, I hopped right up into the back of that truck. Bobby was watching from the open front door and cheered for me.
I know — this is such a silly and small feat, but it reminds me of what my son goes through from the time he wakes up until the time he goes to sleep. A baby is born completely helpless. Yet, over the course of approximately a year, they learn to walk. First they move their arms. Then their legs. Then push up from their belly. Then crawl. And then walk. That is a lot of changes in a short amount of time. And they don’t just magically have these movements down. It takes effort and determination and hard work. My son has fallen down or stumbled and smacked his elbow or knee or even his head on the ground countless times. Sometimes he cries, sometimes he doesn’t skip a beat. He always gets back up and tries again.
Think about it. Every single thing that a baby or toddler does is for the first time. The world is huge and every new object is an alien and every new skill a triumph. Lately, I’ve been taking Auggie to a really great playground in the mornings before it gets too hot. He mostly wants to ride the swing, yet has been curious about the slide. In the past, I’ve gone down slides with him in my lap. More recently, he goes down the small slides with me holding him from off the side. Last week, he saw his friend go down the slide alone and it motivated him to do the same. I took a photo of him sitting at the top of the slide alone for the first time. He looked so serious. He contemplated his next move and how he would skooch forward on his bum like I’d taught him. And then he went for it. He smiled with delight as he slid the six feet down to my beckoning arms. He was proud of himself. And rightly so.
It took me until I was a teenager to learn to ride a bike. Because at the moment of truth, when I needed to summon my courage, I would let anxiety take over and start crying. Then I’d argue and be defensive with whatever family member was trying to teach me that day. Then we would all get frustrated and give up, saying we’d try again later. But later sometimes never comes, or at least not for a while. If only I had been more like my toddler, who faces new mountains to climb day in and day out and hardly hesitates. Hehas faith that it will be okay and he is excited to be doing new things and experiencing the world.
My niece had a similar show of bravery at her third birthday. Her mom rented a pony for the birthday party. The pony was bedecked in flowers and groomed to perfection. There were a handful of children in attendance of varying ages, and most of them took a turn to sit on or ride the pony around the backyard. My niece was not one of those children. While she was in awe of the animal, she didn’t want to ride it. Or so she said. While eating her cake, my father told her she needed to take her chance and ride the pony. She said, “No, I don’t want to today. I’ll ride the pony tomorrow.” My dad explained to her, “No, she won’t be here tomorrow. She is only here for a few more minutes and then they are taking her back to her home. This is the last chance for you to ride her.” She still said no, and turned away from him to focus on her cake. I watched her as she feigned to be solely interested in what she was eating. But her eyes gave her away. While her head was down towards her plate, her eyes kept glancing up at that horse. I could practically see the wheels spinning in her head. Suddenly, her whole body sprang into action and her eyes bugged out of her head as she screamed into the air, “I want to ride the pony now!”
Someone quickly grabbed her and placed her atop the lovely steed before she had time to doubt her decision. And she pranced around on that beautiful pony in all her birthday glory, beaming from ear to ear. It was a magical moment. We all took photos and giggled as she waved to her guests like a beauty pageant queen in a town parade. She had that toddler courage and excited view of the world, too.
Toddlers know that every opportunity is a piece of life that you have to grab. They don’t let ego or pride get in the way of their experiences. They haven’t learned yet how to be embarrassed or to look cool or any of that nonsense that bogs the rest of us down. When they try something new, which they do on a daily basis, they put every fiber of their being into it. When my son runs through the house to chase our dog, he puts his entire soul into each footstep and his whole heart into every body-shaking laugh. That is how I am going to try to live my life from now on, too.