In this fast-paced concrete jungle so many of us call home, we are often scurrying through our lives at a breakneck pace. As the competition to get our kids into the most prestigious schools intensifies, parents go to great lengths to give their children the edge they need to get ahead in this unforgiving metropolis. If you peer closely into the shadows of the soaring skyscrapers down streets snarled with yellow taxis, you will typically observe them in their most natural state – these stroller-striding, sleep-deprived moms hiding behind Chanel sunglasses and relentlessly barreling down the sidewalks en route to the city’s premier infant and toddler enrichment classes. We sacrifice our sleep and sometimes even a blowout, all in the name of educating our children. But while we Manhattan moms put forth unparalleled efforts to give our tots every learning opportunity, we seldom pause to recognize the priceless lessons our babies are unwittingly teaching us.
Last week we joyfully celebrated our daughter’s first birthday with our closest friends and family. Between nibbles of cake and sips of champagne, I found myself immersed in a moment of reverie, reflecting on this whirlwind year and pondering the sheer wonder of it all – the challenges of juggling two-under-two, the poignant memories of my daughter’s first milestones, and the unexpected events that jarred me into reappraising my priorities. It boggles my mind that this ephemeral chapter in my daughter’s life will be one she recalls only through stories and photographs. And although she won’t recollect it, her first year is also one of developmental leaps and absorption through our direct instruction, modeling and environmental osmosis. Little did I know that the lessons my baby girl would teach me would be just as valuable as those I have imparted to her.
There appears to be no impediment on this Earth that will halt my baby girl from obtaining any physical objects she targets. Take wires and electrical outlets, for example. For a reason unbeknownst to me, my daughter, like my son before her, is spellbound by hazardous enticements and drawn to them like a moth to a flame. Although our electrical outlets are equipped with sliding plate covers to prevent the kids from sticking items into the tiny holes, it’s more challenging to baby-proof occupied outlets. After having furnished our apartment with the finest 19th century French antiques (thank you, Charles Cheriff Galleries), we have resorted to reconfiguring our furniture into a makeshift obstacle course in an effort to block off access to electrical outlets. Equally naughty as she is internally driven, this pint-sized apprentice electrician will strategize and exhibit calculated maneuvers to scale any barricade put in place to prevent her from accessing those dangerous corners of our apartment. She perseveres through any challenge and won’t give up until she succeeds, or in this case, seizes a fist-full of wires requiring a prompt intervention to move her back to her playmat. In a blasé smirking manner, looking backwards to make sure I’m watching, she will do it again and again and again. I admire her steadfast tenacity and continue to be impressed by this quality on a daily basis. Despite repeatedly tumbling before somehow climbing over our roadblocks, not once does she think, “maybe this just isn’t for me.” If more of us took a cue from our children and refused to be weighed down by a plethora of perceived limitations and impossibilities, there is no limit to what we might accomplish.
Find Joy in the Little Things
My daughter enjoys showing off her self-evident comprehension of “object permanence,” and what better way to tickle her fancy than engaging in the universal game of peek-a-boo? Her high-pitched squeal of excitement when I vanish and reappear is a reaction so unadulterated, so pure and one filled with joy. This game, though so very simple in nature, transcends all language and cultural barriers; it is based solely on the fundamental concepts of expectation and surprise. It never gets old. In fact, repetition only seems to intensify my daughter’s jubilation. And as it turns out, the laughter is contagious! Regardless of how many times we engage in this infantile amusement, I can’t help but succumb to her giggles as I hide my face and suddenly pop back into her view. I can only hope that she will greet me with the very same enthusiasm years from now when peek-a-boo will have become a distant memory. Her captivating sense of innocence and wonderment at life’s mundane pleasures is a refreshing departure from the ominous uncertainty of today’s world. If we could all see the world through the eyes of a child we might appreciate the small, commonly-overlooked pleasures in our everyday lives.
Live for the Moment
Like most babies, my daughter has the fantastic ability to embrace the present and appreciate each moment as it transpires. She is blissfully unaware of the stressors that plague many adults and has no concept of either the past or future. She knows only now – this very moment, which is essentially the only thing we have for sure. While some adults spend the greater portion of their lives lamenting the past, mourning missed opportunities and worrying about the future, my baby experiences sensations only in the here and now. So long as her needs are gratified immediately, she has no foresight into what needs she may have in the future and isn’t distracted by thoughts of time gone by. Although the complexities of our adult lives have robbed us of this same divine naiveté, we can all by some measure strive to be more present in our daily lives.
No Two Babies Are Alike
Prior to my son’s birth in 2014, I had visions of nibbling on tea sandwiches and petit fours in Central Park while my baby played quietly on a blanket next to me. Boy, did I have a warped perception of motherhood! In addition to assuming the role of new mother after the birth of my son, I also acquired the not-so-glamorous roles of bodyguard, referee, and janitor. As stay-at-home-mom to my incredibly thrill-seeking, rambunctious boy, my days were spent protecting, policing and cleaning up after my son as he mischievously sought opportunities to scale furniture, jump from high surfaces, and turn our apartment walls into crayon-based murals of his own design. When I became pregnant with our second baby while my son was merely 13 months, I was frightened to my innermost core. As much as I love a challenge, I shuddered at the thought of having two of these pint-sized bulldozers leveling our apartment like a tornado. And then I found out we were expecting a girl, and a wave of tranquility washed over me and awakened my inner child who had fantasized about one day having a little girl of her own. As nature would have it, it wasn’t too long after my daughter’s birth that I began noticing unmistakable differences in the personalities of my baby girl and toddler son. My baby girl has always been so mellow, loves cuddling and being held, and cries whenever I leave the room, whereas my son has been an independent free-spirit and risk-taker since day one. The disparities in their personalities could not be any more consistent with gender-specific stereotypes. A few weeks ago my friend, Chelsea, and I took our baby girls to the park for a picnic lunch. As we listened to the birds chirping and airplanes swirling above, our babies sat peacefully by our sides, and in a moment of pure nirvana, we locked eyes and knew this was the rare flash of serenity that we so foolishly thought defined motherhood.
Love knows no bounds
Most second time moms concur – at one point we thought it was inconceivable to love a new baby as much as our first. Our first borns made us mothers and taught us everything we now know about unconditional love. For 20 months my son had my undivided attention and within this time we shared a wealth of unforgettable experiences (for me, at least). Every day was a new adventure. We ate at the latest restaurants, traveled to different neighborhoods in search of the best playgrounds and had play dates or classes virtually daily. I knew him with every fiber of my being and our relationship was one of perfect harmony. When I discovered I was expecting my 2nd child, I experienced both anxiety about the changing dynamic of our relationship and fear of splitting my time and affection with a newborn. How could I even fathom loving another baby as much as my son when I couldn’t possibly share that same connection with a new baby? The answer to this question would soon find its way to me. I discovered soon after my daughter was born that the heart is not subject to limitations as I had once thought, but rather is capable of infinite love. As our family of 3 expanded to 4, my heart so naturally followed in suit. And so began this crazy adventure as a family of 4, my heart practically bursting at the seams with every moment.