Monday, October 01, 2018

"Growing Happens Little By Little"

One evening, before we were parents, my wife and I were invited to an old friend's house for dinner. We hadn't seen her in years, nor met her husband or child, who was at the time about 12 months old. Jennifer must have been pregnant at the time, but it was still new enough that we hadn't yet turned our attentions to our future as parents in any meaningful way.

There was a bowl full of decorative wooden balls on the coffee table. At one point the baby purposefully dumped the balls onto the floor. To our shock, her parents didn't attempt to correct her obvious misbehavior, but rather seemed to find it cute, especially as she began to put the balls back into the bowl again, one by one. When the bowl was full, she then dumped it again. She repeated the process of dumping then refilling that bowl over and over and over for what seemed like a half hour. On the way home that evening, my wife and I agreed that the poor child was cute, but clearly no Einstein.

Of course, today I would have been impressed by the capacity for a child that young to focus on a single self-selected task for such a long time, noting her fine motor skills and emerging mathematical mind. And while this girl has grown into a brilliant and accomplished young woman, it's quite clear that I have also grown quite a bit in my own right.

As Mister Rogers reminds us, "Parents don't come full bloom at the birth of their first baby. In fact, parenting is about growing. It's about our own growing as much as our children's growing, and that kind of growing happens little by little." From my perch as the teacher in a cooperative preschool where the parents of the children attend school right alongside them, I am regularly as inspired by the little by little growth of the parents as I am that of their kids. Every year I meet dozens of first time parents, intelligent, successful adults, yet anxious in their inexperience, recently embarked upon a strange and fraught journey. They may not know it yet, but they will learn at least as much as their child over the next couple decades, a process of growth that will teach them to be better, more complete humans. I'm proud that I get to be a part of that and just as I often try to envision the sort of big kid these toddlers will grow into, I do the same with their parents, imagining them as they will be two or three years from now.

Perhaps the most important thing I hope for every new parent is that they learn not to rush either their child or themselves. In hindsight, it will appear to have happened too fast, but in the here and now, growth happens little by little, balls being dumped from a bowl over and over and over. You don't really have to know what you're doing any more than your child does, but, like them, you must only pay attention, keep them safe enough, and love them. That's the soil, sun, and water of human growth.

Mister Rogers again: "It's tempting to think "a little" isn't significant and that only "a lot" matters. But most things that are important in life start very small and change very slowly and they don't come with fanfare and bright lights." One day, they will be brilliant, accomplished young adults, but today they are dumping balls, not even knowing why, yet growing little by little nevertheless. And so are you.

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