I spend my Mondays through Fridays taking care of my niece (3 years old) and nephew (2), and it never ceases to amaze me how much I learn from them. Every day they provide me with some new insight on how to live a better life and be a better person. Lately it seems their lessons have been getting bigger and better, and the following are just a few of the many they’ve been schooling me in as of late:
Lesson One: Little kids have the right idea when it comes to approaching everyday life.
Each morning they wake up excited to get the day started. Not only are they excited to see you, but they’re also just excited about life in general. Everything that happened in their lives the day before is long forgotten, and everything to come in the day ahead is a mystery that they don’t bother themselves with trying to figure out. They just live right there in the present moment, and are excited about that moment.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that little kids aren’t exactly happy about every single thing that happens to them. The claw mark on my face, an unfortunate result of my nephew’s opposition to nap time, is a very clear indicator of that. I’m just saying that they don’t let the negative keep them down for long. Give it time and they will be right back to their cheerful, happy, over-zealous selves ready to laugh, play and jump on top of you. (And fully willing to forgive you for making them take the nap in the first place.)
Why can’t I be more like that? I’m never going to be happy about every single detail in my life, but so often I let the negative parts of life rob me from fully experiencing or enjoying the positive. Even in my happiest moments, there’s always that dark corner in the way, way back of my mind reminding me that there is some task left unfinished, some relationship unresolved or some situation un-figured out. Even when I’m not consciously thinking about it those nagging problems are always there, keeping at least a small percentage of my brain tuned in on them at all times. I spend so much of my time either living in the past or looking towards the future that I forget to just stop and focus on the present moment as it is. I forget to be excited about life.
I want to wake up in the morning excited, not for what the day will bring, but just excited for no reason at all. I want to wake up smiling, simply because I like life and am grateful for another day to live it. I want to embrace each moment as it comes and fully take it in. And, if that moment happens to be horrible, I want the attention span of a two year old and the uncanny ability to sincerely forget about the incident 10 minutes later.
Lesson Two: Little kids have the right idea when it comes to being themselves.
I’m presently sitting in the living room with the kids; We’re watching Elmo sing about snowmen and we’re having a pretty fantastic day. My niece is wearing a Cinderella dress with a USA soccer jersey on top, flower shoes on the wrong feet and broken, bright green Mardi Gras beads around her neck. She’s holding a half eaten banana in one hand and a half eaten waffle in the other. She doesn’t care that she looks kind of ridiculous (although very, very adorable). She’s just dancing around the room and laughing like a hyena with golden curls that are covering her eyes and a smile that is literally taking up her whole face. She is completely herself.
If for some reason we had to leave the house, she wouldn’t even think twice about stepping out in her mis-matched ensemble. She wouldn’t want to change and, honestly, why should she have to? Her outfit makes her happy. It is unique, funny and silly – just like her – and would tell people that she’s comfortable being herself in any situation. Her actions are not controlled by the thoughts of other people and her outfit isn’t either (although sometimes it would be nice if she kept on the outfit her aunt picked out for her).
There are very few people in my life that I can honestly say have seen me be 100% myself. It generally takes two or three times of me meeting a person before I feel like I can start letting my guard down, but even with most of my close friends that guard is still partially up. Not even everyone in my immediate family truly knows me completely freed from inhibitions.
I used to hate this about myself and think of it as some weird personality defect that I would always have and never fully understand. But this year I’ve been learning a lot about myself and have been digging down to some pretty deep places and uncovering demons I had forgotten even existed. I’ve gotten to know myself pretty well and have finally understood why I am so guarded around so many people and, remarkably, I’ve stopped hating myself for it. I’ve taken a lot of steps towards breaking those walls down, but I know I still have a long way to go – which is why watching my niece dance around today has been so refreshing to me.
Not many people have the courage to be completely themselves in every single situation, but those people are inspirational. When you live life afraid of the judgment from others, you end up letting those people control your life. It’s none of my business what other people are thinking about me and, honestly, if I want to walk outside in a Cinderella dress with a soccer jersey and flower shoes on, why shouldn’t I? Other people would probably stare, but then again maybe it would give them the courage to do the same.
I’m so lucky to get to spend so much time with these kids and so blessed to be their student in the art of living. Now i’m going to go learn some more and dance like a crazy person with my niece.
Oh, and one more thing:
Don’t Forget To Love Yourself.