I love babies and children. I just adore being around them, even when they’re stinky and in need of a diaper change or help on the potty. I’m that weirdo who gets excited to see a toddler coming up the aisle in their parent’s arms on an airplane, hoping I’ll have a new peek-a-boo partner for the duration of the flight.
I am not a mommy yet myself, though I do hope to be one day, and I’m aware enough to know that such waxing rhapsodic about little ones is far from the day-to-day reality of parenthood. I have been active in rearing my own little brother, later my nieces, and I was a nanny when I was in school, so I’ve had experiences staying up all night or negotiating with a tiny human for the privilege of taking a shower or just a quick pee, and I was even part of the caretaker team for a very sick newborn for a while. Though none of these were my own children, and leaving at the end of the day or week or whatever is not like the non-stop 18-year commitment, I understand at least a tiny sliver of the fear and anxiety that parents face as well.
Which is my point—not to say it’s all wonderful all the time, but to take a moment and acknowledge when it is. I know that not every moment is magical, but I’ve just been graced with the presence of a delightful two year old and I want to share this joy as a celebration and, perhaps, a reminder that the 2-5 year old people in our lives are the absolute best.
1. You can introduce them to things.
I don’t usually exhibit signs of megalomania, but the feeling that comes when you introduce a baby or a very young child to something for the first time and they like it is pretty damned awesome. Of course you can introduce an adult to things too, and people of all ages try new things every day, but when a baby or very young child is introduced to something by you, with little to no frame of reference for comparison, you get to share that moment of discovery, and they may forever associate it with you.
Conversely, if you introduce them to something that they don’t like, you’ll find that out right away too. Because…
2. They honor their feelings!
I know there would be drawbacks, like not being able to drive a car or drink wine, but imagine the freedom to be as emotionally open and honor your true feelings like toddlers do! I mean, wearing a diaper and spitting out food you don’t care for are probably a bit extreme and not appropriate life goals, but that honesty and urgency in the moment is enviable.
In growing up, we learn with each passing day how to cover up what we’re actually feeling, and how to constantly second-guess our own feelings and instincts. Some of that is necessary decorum to function in society, but less than we might think.
As an example, what if you could take a nap right now, wherever you are? Are you cranky? Did you not sleep through the night last night? Maybe you need a nap! Are you in or near a safe space where it’d be appropriate? Grab your blankie and go for it!
3. Their perspective is so refreshing.
Last week, there was a hellish rainstorm where I live. I knew there were thunderstorms in the forecast and I was armed with an umbrella as I exited the subway onto the street, where the rain was just beginning to fall. It went from 0-100 real quick, and it was the kind of pelting rain that led hardened New Yorkers, myself included, to huddle together under awnings and wait for it to pass or at least decrease in density, usual rush and schedules be damned.
I was slipping down a rabbit hole of unhappiness, hating the weather in general and the rain specifically, thinking of how long it would take my sneakers to dry, when an adorably high-pitched little girl’s voice cut through the raindrops and my misery:
“YAY! It’s raining!!!”
This little girl, maybe about 4 years old, had emerged from her apartment building DELIGHTED to see this downpour that had broken the spirits of all the adults around her. The woman she was with let her pull her by her arm to “go have fun in the rain,” as she put it, and I was smiling for the rest of the afternoon.
4. Their clothes and shoes are tiny and adorable.
I have no deep insight into this, but I had to state it clearly and get it out of the way because squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.
5. They see true beauty.
Children’s honesty is a valuable commodity, and I love how they’re often not impressed by what adults deem fancy, yet enchanted with simple, little things, content to play with cardboard boxes or ribbon.
When my eldest niece was 4 years old, she and some family members came to visit me at the theater where I was performing at that time. I was in full stage makeup looking quite glam, and I’ll never forget how my niece scrunched up her face in displeasure when we hugged. She then took her hand and tried to wipe off my eye makeup, saying “what’s that” and “something’s on your face” as though I had crumbs on my chin or soot on my cheek.
My sister-in-law doesn’t wear makeup, nor do most of the women on her side of the family, and I don’t usually have much on when I’m around them unless it’s a special event. In my nieces’ eyes, I am kind and giving, and lots of other things that matter way more than my eyebrows. When I struggle to feel beautiful, I have their squeaky voices to remind me of what really matters.
6. They see true ugliness.
Boy oh boy, does that ability to really “see” people work both ways. We have an elder male relative who is simply not a good person. His transgressions against the family have crossed all reasonable boundaries of forgiveness, and you should see how my nieces avoid him when we’re forced to be in the same space.
It’s amazing to watch, because he’ll smile and try to engage them in ways that seem appropriate from the outside, and they just avoid him. My eldest niece knows enough to be polite, my middle niece mostly shuts down, and the baby will scream her head off if he comes near her. Every time.
And this is not a sexual predator or anything, just a shitty individual. Still, pay attention when little ones won’t go near someone, particularly elder male family members. Every situation is different, but it’s important to allow small children to have boundaries too, and not be forced to give Uncle Whoever a kiss if they really don’t want to.
7. They challenge us to be honest.
Have you ever spiraled into a “Why/How come” spiral with a child? They’re able to repeat that inquiry for seemingly endless periods of time, in ways that are both adorable and infuriating. I find that the best response is honesty. There are many things small children would be better served by learning about later in life, but there is usually also a way to answer their inquiries honestly when our patience is up to the task.
It can be a challenge sometimes to tell the truth in language they have the capacity for without just mocking them for the benefit of other adults within earshot, but it’s a worthwhile one, and an opportunity to polish communication skills overall by really getting to the heart of their inquiry, and answering it.
8. There’s a clear division of power.
Lest you think I’m lost in some sort of new-agey haze wherein a toddler who is in the midst of a public tantrum or who is endangering themselves or others should just have their agency respected to the extent that adults do nothing, let me be clear that another reason why I enjoy looking after the junior crew is because it’s truly that: looking after them. Taking care of them. Watching them.
Unlike so many adult interactions, there’s no confusion about who’s in charge, and as much as I consider my current castmate’s adorable 2 year old, for example, my “buddy,” I’m still an adult and if he and I are chilling in the dressing room watching Bubble Guppies on my laptop, I’m not gonna let him put trash in his mouth or fall and crack his head open because we’re just friends hanging out.
For all of the anxiety it can cause, it’s also a gift to be responsible for a whole other person, even for a brief time. Far too many of us coddle or take care of other adults in inappropriate ways, like codependent romantic relationships, so what a blessing it is to have clear and appropriate boundaries between us and a small child.
Also, as the adult, at a certain point you do get to say “Because I said so.” Because every now and again, that actually is the appropriate response.
9. They lead inspiring fantasy lives.
The contentment on a young child’s face when they’re deep in a fantasy is so beautiful. They act out their stories and books you read them at professional thespian levels, they see musical instruments where we see kitchen utensils, and they can carry on entire conversations with friends in their imagination.
The levels of creativity that children display innately, including their elaborate schemes to catapult themselves out of cribs and find that piece of candy they know is in your purse (am I an Auntie or what?), are deep and powerful.
10. They need you.
I don’t suggest that anyone become a parent solely to feel loved or wanted, but there is such depth of joy in being the person a child calls out for in the night or the voice they long to hear when they’re sad. If you have a young person in your life, I encourage you to hold them close, maybe give them a little squeeze right now if you can. They’re the best parts of life. Even if they’re a little bit sticky.
Promo image: AwesomeSA/Creative Commons