By Rachael NachtweyIt was on one of those slow motion moments. After digging around for a bottle in his stroller for 2.7 seconds, I turned my head to see what 14-month-old Ethan was doing just a few feet from me on the playground. Suddenly, I saw him tumble forward, palms first into a soft pile of mud. He stood like that for a few seconds and I was instantly reminded of my Thursday night yoga class. He looked as if he was in a standing forward bend, the uttanasana pose. You could almost see the cartoon bubble above his head, reading, “What is this wonderfully strange, mushy substance I am sinking into?” Then he pushed himself up, stared at his black palms and I bolted, as I could read his little toddler mind. But I was too late. In a flash, he deposited four of his little fingers into his mouth to soak in this new experience fully. Ahhh…playground mud…delicious! As I yanked his tiny hand out of his mouth and carried him over to our stockpile of diaper wipes, I couldn’t help but be a little jealous of how his 14-month-old brain was working. Second upon second, his thoughts were filled with things like, “What the hell is that flying around in the sky?” or “What are those crazy loud noises in the streets?” or most recently, “What is this fabulous sloppy mess I can get myself into?” Oh, to be a curious toddler again who finds wonder in the most elementary things! As much as I enjoy my yoga class, I cannot free my mind, let alone simplify my thoughts to recognizing my breath or how my body feels. There are just too many things to think about and keep track of! However, I do very much enjoy the mantra of trying to stay focused in the present, to appreciate the here and now, and more than anything, to take in the world through the eyes of a child. I think of that last sentiment constantly the two days a week I nanny little Ethan. For the past several weeks, when I arrive at the family’s Brooklyn apartment, the first thing he says is no longer “Hi!” (which was pretty darn cute while it lasted) but rather, “light!” He so desperately wants to share his new knowledge with everyone. What he’s really thinking is, “Holy crap…so I have to tell you about this new thing I discovered! Every once in a while, this circle on the ceiling suddenly gets really bright and fills the whole room with light! It’s like Mom and Dad have brought the sun right into our living room, no lie! It is amazing!” And he is so excited about this new discovery that he wants to share it with us again and again and again…
I adore how his big blue eyes are like sponges, soaking in every little thing in his vicinity. How overwhelming and exciting a walk down the street must be! The rest of us are practically sprinting from one place to the next, dodging one another on the sidewalk, often muttering obscenities under our breath while he is reclining in his stroller, thinking, “Beeping cars, frisky dogs, brightly colored storefronts, puffy clouds rolling through the sky…how beautiful and fantastic this all is!” But it’s not enough to simply observe. He wants to experience everything fully. He needs to feel, hear, smell, (and unfortunately, for those of us concerned about the possibility of choking or poisoning), taste just about everything.
Since I am beyond the oral fixation stage (although some might argue this, knowing my beverage toting, fingernail biting, snacky self), I like to follow Ethan’s lead and before anything else, survey my surroundings. I love to come down to his eye level and follow his gaze to see what new item he has discovered. Suddenly, he and I will be staring at the same leaf, dancing in the wind and it is mesmerizing because when I stop to really envision how he sees this tiny leaf…this one teeny part of the world that is both beautiful and entertaining…when I stop to think about its simplicity and yet, how it contributes to an immense global ecosystem, I feel amazingly calm.
So perhaps I can’t free my mind or “stay in the moment” or envision myself as one small part of the universe while in downward facing dog, but I am able to do this on my knees next to a curious little person who is absolutely spellbound, looking outside his bedroom window. Perhaps there is more than one reason that I am a nanny for little Ethan right now. Maybe along with the basic “I need a job and you need child care” issue, I was meant to learn from a toddler. Perhaps therapy, self-help books, and yoga are not the key right now.
Maybe it’s all about taking in that leaf and knowing that we will all dance and flutter and sometimes fall to the ground. Perhaps during the times that we feel the most boring and plain, we are actually quite exotic and interesting to someone else. And just maybe, we can remind ourselves that as small as we are in this universe, we do add to it. Even during our lowest lows, we must be conscious that we do create joy and beauty in the most fundamental ways. Ethan reminds me of that when I sing a new silly song or introduce an unfamiliar piece of food to him and his face lights up in amazement and wonder. And then we look at each other and it’s as if we are thinking the same thing…right now, in this moment, you amaze and delight me more than anyone or anything else.
And what feels better than that?