Life is full of complexity. No one thing stands apart from another. Family, friends, and acquaintances, DNA and atoms, or animal, vegetable, or mineral—everything is connected. Yet, we still find simple things in our world, things that are unique. I think part of that is human nature to find the special, simple things in our lives. It’s what keeps us going through even the most trying of times.
Being a parent bears a ton of complexity, and yet, the simple things are what I value the most. After two years of parenting, these are a few of my most important lessons:
#1 Babies Grow Up Too Fast
Everyone told me this. EVERYONE. Family members, friends, and random strangers all issued this piece of advice, and after a while (the first time), it became so cliché that it became white noise. When my son, Jacobi, was born, I marveled at how small he was, and yet, part of me wanted to see what he would become, to skip ahead a year, maybe two, maybe ten just to see what he’d be like. I was so excited to see where he’d end up, that I almost missed the journey. I encouraged him to sit up, to crawl, to pull himself up, to walk, and to say his first words. My wife knew exactly what she was doing when she told me not to push, to hang back and enjoy the time I had with him when he was little. I didn’t always ignore her, but sometimes I did. After all, being an encouraging parent is a good thing, right?
But it hit me hard when Jacobi turned two. Maybe it was the birthday party, or the haircut, but whatever it was, I saw in an instant that Baby Jacobi was gone. It was the dawn of the second day, and Toddler Jacobi was on the rise. There’d be no more first laughs, no more frightening first steps, and no more lazy mornings with Jacobi swaddled and cradled against my chest. I know there will be other “firsts”, but those big firsts that come in the early years of life are amazing on a level that I didn’t understand at the time. They seemed so simple at the time, but looking back, I see how much more important they really were—not in the grand scheme of life, but to me, in particular.
#2 Seeing Your Kid Laugh Is Awesome
Emotions and babies don’t mix exactly. I couldn’t tell when my newborn son’s scrunched up face signaled an attack of gas, a misshapen yawn, or an impending bowel movement. And while I loved watching his little smiles, I always wondered exactly where those smiles came from. Was this just some muscle spasm, or was he smiling because he was happy? I’d love to think it was the latter. Even when Jacobi got older, I had trouble trying to figure out what emotions he was displaying. Was that fit of anger really anger, or was he just testing out the waters?
One thing I knew for sure was when that kid laughed, he did so because he was genuinely happy. The first time I heard him laugh for any prolonged amount of time, I was hiding behind the couch, popping out, and spitting at the air in front of him with my lips pursed (making that PFFFFFFFT sound). Jacobi loved it, and his bright smile turned to little chuckles, and then into squeals of glee. I had tears in my eyes when it was over. I was happy, too. My son had a sense of humor, why shouldn’t I be happy? To this day, any laugh I can get out of Jacobi is like gold.
#3 ...But Sharing An Emotion Might Be Even Better
Hearing my son laugh or seeing his face caught in awe at the cat is one thing, but when we share those emotions, it’s ten times more powerful. One afternoon, Jacobi and I were sitting on the couch watching TV. Mickey Mouse was dragging a bag of garbage across his kitchen floor when suddenly the bag ripped open and dumped trash everywhere. I laughed and Jacobi laughed at my side, simultaneously. At first, I didn’t think anything of it, but then I realized what’d just happened. He thought something was funny and laughed—same as me. He wasn’t watching me to see my reaction, nor was I watching him. We simply shared in the moment, something I really didn’t expect would happen until he was older. It’s such a tiny little thing, but it’s pretty cool seeing my little man’s personality take shape.
#4 Reading Is Important
As a new parent, everyone told me how important it was to read to your kids. Like I needed advice there. I’m a writer, and reading is a huge part of what I do, so of course I was going to read to Jacobi. But before he was born, I always just pictured myself reading to my son while he sat on my lap, listening quietly. Early on, this was very much the case, but even after the one-month mark, I tried a different approach. Instead of simply reading books to my son, I read with him.
I let Jacobi explore the pages. I tried reading with different inflections and accents to gauge his reactions. Once he knew how to point, I’d let him interact with the pictures and words as I read. When started to talk, I’d help him sound out words. It didn’t take a lot of effort. It was fun, and it relates to what I mentioned before about sharing moments together. Now, if we could only read comic books together…
#5 Information Can Be Your Worst Enemy
The simplest, yet most complex I could think of when I made this list was this. Becoming a parent was not an easy transition for me. My wife and I knew we wanted to have a child, and we planned for it, but actually making the leap set my world spiraling into a sea of responsibility that made me gasp. Mainly, it was “the unknown” that really put my head into a tailspin, and so I fought the unknown with the power of the known. Knowledge. Books. Childbirth classes. Online forums.
By the time Jacobi was born, I’d read probably three or four books on parenting and/or childbirth. I considered myself prepared. Of course, there’s hundreds of little things that I missed, ignored, or forgot about, and so I leapt back into the books or onto the internet whenever I needed a refresher. To this day, I still have trouble with this, which is why I think it is such a complex idea. The truth is that it all really comes from my insecurity as a parent.
I don’t always feel this way, but when I really don’t know how to approach Jacobi’s behaviors, I start to doubt myself, and so I try to figure out what hundreds of other parents or doctors have done. Ultimately (and I have to remind myself this point all the time), there are a ton of different ways to raise a child. Bottle fed VS Breast fed. Juice VS Water. TV VS No TV. The simplest approach for me is to talk with my wife and figure it out together. There’s nothing wrong with getting some information, but sometimes, all that information just covers up the parenting instincts. Just be a parent.
2/13/2013 04:42:08 pm
Good blog, Matt. Yes they do grow up way too fast and in the blink of an eye, you can re-title this to what I learned from my grandchildren.
2/14/2013 01:05:46 pm
Thank you, Shawn. And grandkids? Holy geez...I can't even imagine yet.
2/14/2013 01:11:45 pm
I think the biggest lesson for me was enjoy everyday, in life we rush, much because society requires it of us. Other times we have the choice to slow down and savor the moment.
2/21/2013 08:37:04 am
I loved your blog. It brought back many times when I was sure I was going to raise you and Michelle the wrong way and you'd both turn out awful. Dad and I just tried to raise you using our common sense most of the time. I'm glad I had summers free from teaching to just be and do things with you both. I tried to pick up on your strengths as you were growing up and encouraging them. I'm so proud of how both of you have turned out and are such good friends to each other.
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Everything and nothing I have done in my life so far has prepared me for being a father.