A week ago my daughter Amalia turned one. One of the things that freaked me out about kids before I had one of my own was the way they serve as a physical manifestation of the passage of time. There are entire eras of my life where a year or two could pass without anything changing noticeably, whereas in one year’s time a baby grows from an organism that can’t do much but cry, poop, and occasionally open its eyes to a whole person with thoughts, opinions, and the ability to communicate.
This year Amalia learned to smile, then to crawl, then to walk. She now has words for the important things in her life: Yia yia, Papou, Abuu for her grandparents. “Agua” for water. “Mum-mum” for food. “Bah-bah!” for another baby. “Wow-wow” for a dog. “Bubble” for bubbles. This proto-vocabulary allows her to communicate her desires, and her delight in babies, bubbles, and dogs, surprisingly effectively.
I’m trying to teach her not to pick things up off the ground and put them in her mouth, not to play with electrical cords, not to climb up stairs unsupervised. But the truth is, when you compare what I’ve achieved in the last year (written some stuff, taken some trips, done a lot of breastfeeding), to what she’s achieved (learned to walk, eat solid food, and interact with others), I’m clearly the one in the slow learners’ group. So I’ve been trying to figure out what her secret is—and the secret of all other babies who are growing at such a rapid, awe-inspiring pace. I’ve been watching her for clues, to pick up some of her moves. And I’m starting to think the world would be a better place if we all acted a little bit more like babies. If Amalia could speak beyond demanding more agua, food, or bubbles, here’s the advice I think she’d give.
1.) Eat small meals every three hours. Try everything—breast milk, zucchini fritters, yogurt, octopus balls—but eat lightly, eagerly, and often and you’ll develop an incredible metabolism.
2.) If you’re enjoying what you’re eating, hum, clap, or stop briefly and do a little dance. The chef will be delighted and it will enhance your eating pleasure
3.) Stand up and keep going each time you fall, and every day you’ll get better at moving forward. (But if you plan to fall down a lot, it helps to have some padding on your butt.)
4.) Smile at babies, dogs, homeless people, any one looking at you and not at their cell phone. They’ll probably smile back.
5.) Say no when you don’t want to do something. But half the time, after you say no, change your mind and give it a try.
6.) If someone asks for applause, clap. It’s the easiest, cheapest way to make people happy.
7.) Trust your gut. If you like someone, pat their arm. If you don’t like someone and they get in your face or try to grab you, yell.
8.) Try something new every day. But bear in mind not everything you see is food.
9.) Be curious. Open every cabinet, crawl underneath furniture, empty full drawers. Just make sure someone has locked up all the sharp objects first. And when you’re out in the world, keep your eyes open and you’ll probably spot something wonderful—like a butterfly, or a cloud.
10.) When you see someone you love, smile so hard you laugh out loud and occasionally topple over.
I wonder what Amalía will learn in the next year…not to eat rocks? How to jump, hop or skip? And I wonder what she’ll teach me, provided I pay attention.