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Lessons From A Toddler
The other day I was playing with my nephew who is 14 months old. I watched as he went from playing with building blocks to little farm animals to anything and everything. Construction. Destruction. Repeat. It was really magnificent to try to see the world through his eyes, and even more interesting, to observe what was coming up in me as he played.
The main toy we were playing with was a little farmhouse. This little farmhouse has cutouts in the sides of it that match the shape of different animals that are wooden pieces… sheep, cow, chicken, horse, farmer, and so on. I laid all the farm-themed shapes out on the ground around it and tried to teach him how to do it, “hey! So what fits in this one? Is this a cow?!” Hint, hint. Nudge, nudge. He grabbed the cow out of my hand and shoved it where the sheep was supposed to go.
I wanted to correct him. I wanted to teach him. I wanted him to know that the sheep goes there, not the cow! I wanted him to get it right.
As I get ready to become a father I’ve been anxiously anticipating what it will bring up for me. I sense that my child will be my greatest teacher yet, and that brings both excitement, and also some fear and trepidation as I know what it’s like to be in the cavern of growth. The beautiful goo of expansion.
Little did I know the lessons would begin far before our child arrives… and that my teacher would be someone who not that long ago, was a baby! Wtf.
Learning from my nephew has been an honour. He is my sansei, and I am his student.
I didn’t realize the significance of the lesson the farmhouse would hold for me. As I watched him push and pull. Open and close. Put all the animals in through the giant opening you’re supposed to empty all of the pieces from, and then swiftly turn it upside down and rain chaos on the floor. I sat with why I wanted him to put the damn cow in the cow-shaped hole. And then I realized it. This game, this toy, had an outcome to my adult brain. Success in my mind meant him putting the right shape in the right place. But his mind was free of these constraints. The point was to be with the world. Not try to shape it. Not to have expectations. Not to see success in such a myopic way.
I laughed as I watched him be so enthralled with chickens that fit in cow-holes and farmers who dove head first through horse-holes. He had it right. Every time something didn’t fit or didn’t “work”, he was learning.
I left our playtime together reflecting on how we rob ourselves of the feeling of success because we didn’t do life “right.” Our relationship didn’t work out, or the risk we took didn’t go as we’d hoped. The job we applied for, we didn’t get. The product we launched, the thing we wrote, the words we said, the offer we made… they didn’t get us the outcome we hoped for and/or expected. And because of that, we feel like sh*t.
Not realizing that the purpose is to play. It’s to try things. It’s to realize that if we are truly being with the world, we are being with ourselves. That’s the point.
I almost robbed him of that by trying to control his play time and projecting an outcome I desired on to him. This is how we pass down disappointment. I thought I was going to teach him about the world, and yet, I recognize that he is the one who is teaching me.
He is still free from the programming of the world. And because of that, he is helping me deprogram a little more each and every day.
I say all of this because I hope it helps you bring more ease to your life. More exhales. More being with the world. More flexibility. More curiosity. The point isn’t to win at life. It’s to be with it. And yourself.
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