Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lessons from a One Year Old

I have a son who’s just turned one. He is a big, mellow, happy boy who is always on the move. He can’t walk just yet, but he will be walking soon if his crawling and cruising is any indication. 
Watching him grow during his first year of life has brought me incredible joy and pride, also some insights into how I’ve been approaching the living of my own life.
Babies are incredibly focused. They put all their attention and energy into one goal at a time. An early mobility milestones for any child is the ability to roll over. The desire comes from deep inside. When my son was about five months old, he began to twist, wiggle, arch, grunt, and struggle. He was trying to move. Several weeks later,  he rolled from his back to tummy for the very first time. As is typical, he then discovered that being face down was not all he had hoped it would be and began to cry. But as soon as he was gently returned to his back, he immediately began to try again. Usually, this process continues until baby can roll from back to tummy and from tummy to back with equal ease. Then baby shifts attention to sitting up, then crawling, then walking, and so on. The point is that my infant son was totally focused on learning to roll over in spite of the uncertainty and discomfort that came with the effort
A few weeks ago my baby boy decided that he wanted to touch something new and interesting – the shiny brass handle on our front entry door. He crawled over to the door, considered his target, and began to reach up for it. As I watched him start his attempt, I thought to myself, “He’s never going to reach it. He’s not tall enough, and he’s way too wobbly on his feet.”  However, since there is value in the effort, I let him try while I kept watch close by. 

He quickly realized that he could not simply reach for it and grab it, and kneeling was not cutting it either, so he attempted to stand. Now, bracing himself against the door, he was closer to the goal, but still far away. Reaching up on tip toes, he fell. The fall shocked him and he started to cry. I picked him up to console him, and he immediately began to protest the interruption, wiggling out of my arms and back to the floor for another attempt. Crawling quickly back over to the door, he again climbed the face of it and resumed the attempt to grab that brass handle. He figured out that by pressing himself flat against the door, he could gain another few inches. Being a wobbly guy, this impaired his balance and he fell again. More tears. More protesting and wiggling down when I picked him up. As I watched him crawl back to the door, I thought to myself, “When’s the last time I tried so hard for something that seemed out of reach?” 
Pressing himself flat against the door while reaching was helping, but not really getting it done, since there were still a few inches left to go. Then came the big discovery: Baby figured out that if he stood on the toes of one foot, and then reached for the handle with the opposite hand, he could just about grab it. Closer! Closer! So close! Bam! Fell again. More tears and whimpering in protest, then right back to the door. This went on for at least half an hour. 
By now my jaw was hanging open. Partly because I couldn’t believe how focused and motivated he was, and partly because it looks like he’s actually going to figure out how to reach that handle. 
A few more attempts of the tippy-toes-with-left-foot and reaching-with-right-hand method and he had it! He grabbed the handle and let out a loud shout of victory, as if to say, “I did it!” Then, of course, he fell. I assumed that since he had been successful, he would lose interest; but again, I was wrong. I suppose he wanted to prove to himself that he could grab that handle any time he wanted to, because he continued in his efforts until he had successfully grabbed it five or six times more. Only then, having repeatedly vanquished his foe, did he at last turn his attention to some other activity. 
I wish I possessed the words to convey just how amazing it was to watch this process. I was schooled in tenacity by a one-year-old baby. How can I express the pride I felt? That’s my boy – he never gives up!  He achieves what seems impossible! He wins!
We grown-ups can be so lazy. My baby boy has more fire in him than I do. We are born with the will to try, to never give up, to experiment, to be focused and single minded and persist in the pursuit of goals. These traits are necessary for surviving and thriving through the first few years of life. How do we lose them? What takes this fire out of our bellies? How often do we talk ourselves out of worthy efforts before a single calorie is burned or a single risk is taken? I know I’ve done this too many times to count.  If we were as tenacious as a baby, we’d meet nearly every goal we ever set.
Next time you set out to achieve something worthy, be like my big baby boy.  Try, fall, get hurt, cry, try again. Then try again. Then try some more. Expect the best of yourself. Believe in the possible. Stay focused. Prove them all wrong. Grab that brass handle!
My life is full of challenges and opportunities. So many dreams and goals that sometimes seem out of reach. Now, whenever I feel this way, whenever I catch myself doing less than my best, or thinking about giving up, I’ll picture my baby boy reaching for that brass handle. Then I’ll get focused, work harder, and try again. My children are showing me how, and they are watching me. How can I do any less? 


  1. Very, very true! My two-year-old son routinely amazes us with his tenacity and inventiveness in meeting new goals. But I never turned it around and thought of how that differs from how I act in my own life. Interesting insight.

    1. Thanks for the kind words Caroline. This is just one of the ways that my children make me a better person. How can I teach them that anything is possible if I don't live like I believe it?


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