As much as I would like to think that I am a great shining influence on my son, imparting golden nuggets of sage-like wisdom from high atop my throne of adulthood and responsibility, I realize something every day; that little guy already knows way more about life and living than I could ever teach him.
Sure, he is full of all kinds of beautiful nonsense. He has an encyclopedia-like knowledge of the entire Pokemon universe, and he has decided that every car ride we take is a perfect opportunity to explain to me the nuances of that world. He can regurgitate an endless stream of Minecraft facts with such gravitas and sincerity that he sounds like he is reciting holy scriptures and ancient commandments. He is a normal kid in those ways. Children are mostly filled with useless crap that means the world to them, but doesn’t matter to the grand scheme of things, and they like to take every opportunity they can to tell everyone they meet about it.
Yet, every so often, if you are really paying attention, children are freaking brilliant! I mean, yogi-zen-sage-jedi brilliant! They say and do some shit that adults have no idea you can say or do and I love that part of being a parent; the fact that I get to learn as much as I teach. Parents and children are in a symbiotic relationship, just like any other, where we make each other better or worse based upon the things we see the other do and say. It’s a reciprocity of lessons, and if we take the time to pay attention, and filter through the crap, there is a lot we can learn. This is what I have learned so far:
Every rainy day is a good excuse to splash in some puddles.
Never be so tightly tied to a plan that, if it doesn’t go your way, it is the end of the world. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is going to stop the universe from conspiring to throw you some curve balls. Instead of cursing your luck, use it as an excuse to get messy and have some fun!
I am a control freak. A planner. I hate when plans change or when something derails my plans. I plan to go to the zoo. I have exhibit maps, timetables, concession stand funds allocated, line length calculators memorized. I have this shit optimized. I have the freaking migratory patterns of the zoo crowds mapped out so that we can hit every exhibit without a crowd. I have committed to NASA-space-shuttle-launch amounts of preparation. And… then it rains. Of course. I throw a shit fit and my son just shrugs and says , “Ah well.” He doesn’t know or care about all the planning I did and all the hard work I put into making this zoo trip absolutely epic and mind blowing. He was able to forget about the zoo as soon as the rain came. He just wanted to splash in some puddles.
He didn’t tie everything into the zoo trip and therefore, when that plan was derailed by circumstances beyond our control, he saw another instant opportunity for some fun in something he didn’t even expect. His mind was free to just go with whatever came up. The time you spend cursing your bad luck because something out of your control happens could be time you spend splashing in the rain puddles of life and kicking up a storm of impromptu fun you never expected. As a general point of fact, non-metaphorical splashing in puddles is literal fun as well. You need to go do that!
There is no race, religion, political affiliation, gender, sexual orientation or other stereotypes. There are only people who are nice and people who are mean.
The only thing my son sees about people is their propensity for certain actions. He does not give a damn what race, what religion, what sexual orientation, whatever anyone is. All he sees is people who are mean to him and people who are nice to him, because people really have no more powerful identity in this world aside from that. He does not judge, he does not ridicule, he does not care. All he wants is someone willing to watch him play Minecraft and listen to his never ending diatribe of monsters you can kill and things you can build. If you do that, you are nice and you rate highly in his book.
Judgment is an adult disease, contracted in our teenage years, that typically spreads as we get older. It erodes our ability to see events and people clearly and to remember that each individual should be taken on their own merit of ability and action to be good or bad. I can not believe this lesson still has to be learned in this day and age and that children are the primary ones teaching it.
Everyone is a friend. Unless they are mean.
This is related to the lesson above. As an adult my human radar is always set on paranoid mode. I am skeptical of people’s intentions and keep them a safe distance away so they can’t peek behind the curtain and see the crazy man running the show in my head. Children’s human radar, on the other hand, is always set to acceptance mode. They think everyone is worth getting to know and could be called a friend. As long as they aren’t mean, of course.
Kids are just not as jaded and cynical and mistrusting and they approach people in a way that gives them the benefit of the doubt. It usually makes their interactions with others more open, honest, raw and enjoyable. Now, I am not saying there are not bad people in the world. There are plenty. Be vigilant of them, but don’t assume the worst of everyone. It’s like never approaching any dog you see because you think you might get bit by one. Yes. Some dogs bite, but I would rather get bit by one bad dog than give up the joy of petting every crazy, fluffy, slobbering monster I meet!
The toys I paid a lot for, that are just for him, are never as fun as the cheap ones he can play with everyone.
Quality time is a valuable commodity these days. We have thought to replace the acts of simple togetherness with the constant, proximal isolation of technology, but if you look at most children, and you watch how they play, it will get you thinking.
It is usually the silly thing that they made up, but can all do together, that is the most enjoyable thing for them. They don’t care how much something cost, how well it is designed, the replayability. They only care if they can all be involved and all have fun, because they know that doing stupid stuff with a bunch of people is a lot more fun than doing stupid stuff by yourself. I don’t need to spend so much of my money or time on things or experiences that cost a lot and only I value. The things and experiences I spend my money or time on can be cheap, but made priceless, if the value is shared with the people I care about.
Sometimes, you have to have dessert before dinner.
Because, stuff the rules! You can’t just go through life following all the rules and expect to have enough fun to satisfy your soul. Sometimes, you just have to say screw it and do something totally crazy, like having dessert before dinner. I just want to be clear that, I am in no way sanctioning dessert before lunch or breakfast. That is not cool under any circumstances. Although… breakfast dessert does sound pretty awesome…
Anyway, some rules are arbitrary and we only think of them as rules because somebody else told us to think of them that way. If you can look at all the things you do and ask yourself why you really do them, you are going to find some really arbitrary reasons for doing some stuff that you really don’t have to or want to do. Learn to break some rules and have fun with it. Just because it has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it that way.
A hug fixes everything.
I wish that hugs were a recognized currency among adults. I wish that I could hug my boss when I mess up at work. I wish that I could hug the lady at the DMV – who is so annoyed by a simple question that her face turns red and the vein above her eye starts bulging. Hugs make almost any sadness or anger or pain or wrongdoing smaller, because there is just no way you can hold on to it while you’re arms are filled with someone else. Physical contact of any kind is a mood stabilizer and antidepressant. Spread that medicine around, and get closer to the people you care about and who need you.
Why and how are the greatest questions there are.
Why can’t I go play outside? Uh, because there is a tornado warning and we are all going to stay in the basement and constantly refresh every weather app we have to make sure we are safe. But why? Because tornadoes are dangerous and they can seriously hurt people. How? They hurt people by moving at really high speeds and destroying everything in their path. Why? Because that’s just what they do! I don’t know why! Do I look like damn meteorologist?! Go play outside!
Kids want to soak up as much as they can about everything. The world is a place to be discovered; to be questioned and probed and understood. How and why are two incredible questions that can foster a lifetime of learning. I secretly love when my son asks me how and why, because it forces me to think deeply about things that I always just take for granted and rarely consider. If I can’t answer a question that he has on his mind, I typically go find an answer, because every excuse is a good excuse for learning something new and learning new things is what life is all about. Why is life all about learning new things? Because I said so!
The most important lesson of all.
My son has taught me a lot and I am grateful for that. He has also taught me a bunch of useless junk that sometimes spills out when I am talking to adults, but the good of his lessons always outweighs the bad. And of course, I have passed on valuable lessons to him that he will not appreciate until he is old and wise like me, just as I did to my mother. Aside from these lessons we have shared, I also realize something else that I really need to give him. Something that my mother gave to me, and something that every parent should give to their child.
I need to give him the ability to hold on to all his brilliant plans, ideas, questions, lessons and knowledge before the world strips it all away and replaces it with the standard, stock, work-till-you-die and do-as-you’re-told, just-make-it-through mentality that tends to settle in when you are not paying attention. The best gift I can give that boy is an open ear for all his crazy ramblings, an open mind to understand the genius of them, and an open heart to help him follow through with them. No matter what other lessons we share, this one is the one that will make the most lasting difference on his life and the one that should always be passed down.
Featured photo credit: Brookie via commons.wikimedia.org
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