When people talk about parenting, they tend to focus on sleepless nights, nappies, screaming, tiredness and poop. What people don’t mention nearly so often is how much that we, as parents, can learn from our babies – about living in the moment, the dangers of preconceived notions, the creative possibilities of human ingenuity, and what our bodies are really capable of.
Everything Izzie touches, picks up, looks at and experiences, she comes at for the first time. Being around her as she stares with giggling delight at bubbles floating in the air, or screams with joy if I pick up my guitar, or laughs uproariously whenever she sees the cat, you start to realise that the world is full of wonders that we, as adults, simply take for granted.
As I was pushing her around town this afternoon, focusing on things to do, stuff to buy, she was pointing upwards and cooing. Stretched between the buildings were red, white and blue bunting for the Queen’s ninetieth, a sea of triangles fluttering in the breeze. I took a moment to stand in the sunshine and watch them, and it was beautiful, a beauty we don’t see because as adults we don’t live in the now.
It’s the same with her approach to the world. We live by rules, and fixed ideas, and received wisdom, but for babies the rules are not set. Earlier today I was trying to get Izzie to pound on her drum, but she kept turning it upside down and spinning the feet. ‘You’re doing it wrong,’ I kept thinking, and turning it right side up, and encouraging her to bang on the top, because it’s a drum.
But then I realised that there’s nothing wrong with what she was doing. To me, with my learned, conditioned way of seeing things, there is only one way of positioning a drum – upright – and one use for it – music. Her creative approach, with no concept of the ‘right’ way to use a drum, was to treat it as a toy. And why not? Why can’t we play with drum feet? Why, as adults, do we fix our viewpoints in place and categorise things as this or that without considering that they could be other? Babies teach us about the possibilities in life if we only dropped our rigid notions of how and why and simply allowed ourselves to experiment.
That said, I wasn’t overly pleased when she picked up Lizzie’s car keys and decided to bash them repeatedly into my guitar, revelling in the noise she made in the time between scratching the body and me snatching them off her. So I guess there have to be some rules in place.
What I’m really impressed by lately are a couple of navigational tricks Izzie’s come up with that reveal the incredible capacity humans have for problem solving. She’s discovered that if she puts a smooth object under her left hand when she crawls, she merely has to slide that hand and not pick it up, reducing the amount of labour involved and increasing her speed across the floor. And if she can’t reach something on the coffee table, she wheels her trolley of wooden blocks up to it and climbs inside to give herself an extra few inches of height. She’s ten months, for crying out loud – it makes you feel proud to be human.
And then there’s what she teaches us about our bodies. I see my body as a stiff, battered thing that isn’t capable of all kinds of movements – mostly exercise, to be fair. But Izzie – from sitting on the floor, she simply stands straight up without using her hands or getting to her knees first, all through the power of her legs. If she can do it, why can’t I? As we get older, we stop using certain muscles, spend too much time sitting, and our tendons tighten up and things turn into knots. But babies can do it, people who do yoga can do it, which means we can do it – we’ve just become lazy, is all.
And she’s taught me something about my body that is mind blowing – Izzie has started rolling her tongue. Since neither Lizzie nor I can roll our tongues, and I was taught at school (erroneously, as it turns out) that tongue rolling is heritable, I rushed to the mirror to make sure that there hadn’t been a mix-up at the hospital. And, after a few minutes of experimentation, straining muscles I’ve never used before, I managed to roll my tongue for the first time – after 36 years of being incapable of doing so.
Babies, then, remind us of everything we lose as we grow up, and everything we can get back if we only pay attention, and open our minds, and stop taking everything for granted. They show us how we can be creative and unfettered in our everyday lives, appreciate the world around us, and free ourselves from the prisons of our minds. And that isn’t mentioned nearly enough.