One of my biggest assumptions in being a parent was that I really needed to grow up before I brought a child into the world. Sitting on my couch in my Snuggie™ coloring in a Disney coloring book with my box of 164 crayons, drinking a glass of apple juice, I told myself, “wow, you’re a 5’9″ child.”
It’s true. I love apple juice and crayons (cerulean is the best color ever, and everything I color usually ends up cerulean blue) and snuggling under a blanket. But you know what? I think maintaining that child-like sensibility is a necessity when it comes to raising a child. Watching my son push my yoga bolster across the carpet like he’s a giant steam roller, or spewing juice across the room in a sudden onset of giggling, or tossing broken crayon bits around on the floor, I’m filled with such joy! My adult self says, “Holy crap- this is an enormous mess that is going to take an hour to clean up, and heaven only knows if he’ll ever pass that bit of green crayon he ate…” But my child-like self says, “Look how much fun he’s having right now!”
I love it! I love that there are board books all over the living room. I love that his tiny socks end up in all corners of the house. I love that he can sit and giggle at the traffic going by outside. There is simplicity in the innocence of childhood. I think that’s why such a large part of me (and my generation of millennials in general) clings so tightly to it. We have video games, grown-up coloring books, Extra large juice drink pouches, Blu-ray special editions of anime cartoons, and subscription snack box services… We’re all just a bunch of 25-35-year-old children! But you know what? We also have the ability to sympathize with our little ones. We can look at them making messes and have compassion. We can watch them derive joy from unrolling toilet paper without losing our tempers (because, seriously, it looks like a blast, and we’ve secretly always wanted to do that) and we can let them be little in a world where kids are growing up way too fast.
I’ve always sort of scoffed at the “American parenting” style in which we dote on our children without really teaching them responsibility. But I think that what I’ve learned so far about being a parent is that personality of the parent plays into a lot of the way we instruct, discipline, and raise our kids. My son has seen every Star Wars film to date (including Episode 7, which he sat through at the theatres at the age of 8 months) and can make the R2D2 shriek sound on cue (although I’m sure most children make this sound anyway…) He has traveled through 5 states (one on accident, woops, no GPS!) and he loves listening to The Beatles. My kid is freaking awesome.
And even though I’m pretty laid back, I watch his daily play times and I look for teachable moments. I tell him he is loved. I read to him from the Bible and explain that Jesus loves him and that God made him and sent him to me at just the right time. I let him “help” me in the garden and toss the dirt and worms around (he hates worms… I was a little disappointed… maybe in time) because doing is how kids learn. And I’ve come to grips with the fact that my house will never look immaculate again because it is well lived in, and my boy likes to learn and explore and do.
And through all this, I believe my inner child has been reawakened so that I can understand and relate to my son more fully. Yes, I am the adult, and teaching, nurturing, and disciplining are my primary responsibilities to this tiny human. But he also needs to know that Mama loves him and Dada loves him and we can all have fun together. He needs to feel safe with me, so that when he plunges into the turmoil of adolescence, he remembers how cool his dad and I are and feels safe and comfortable coming to us for counsel and wisdom and advice. And on the days where I want to pull my hair out and duct tape him to his crib, I remember how fleeting this period of childhood is. I remember that all of the clothes in his drawers will be outgrown within the month. I remember how badly I wish I could go back to the times of tea parties, blanket forts, and construction paper in my life. And I’m filled with such bitter-sweet joy as I look into my son’s eyes.
What I know about life that he doesn’t yet is that responsibility will come all too quickly and there will be a day when he has to set childish things aside to provide for his own family. In the mean time be wild, little one. Laugh, play, get messy. Be a child.
And for those of us who are past the age of childhood, I wish the same to you; be wild. Laugh, play, get messy. Be a child. And savor the joy that is present in each moment of being a parent.