What can we learn from children?
They smile when they’re happy and cry when they’re sad.
They wear their hearts on their sleeve because they have no fear of their emotions coming back to haunt them.
They trust blindly and they love wildly.
Babies live in the moment at all times. They’re not bogged down with memories of the past, nor are they searching for one in a million different potential scenarios for the future.
They just… are.
So, what can we learn?
What have I learnt?
I have learnt to breathe deep into my belly like my son does. To hold my head high, shoulders back, in line with my hips and my knees. Confidence in myself, in my power.
To love my body the way a baby loves theirs. Not because they think it’s attractive, or think others will find them cute, they love themselves because they have no reason not to.
Because one day they woke up and discovered that they could pick up a piece of food with two fingers, or make a sound that makes everyone around them laugh, or, maybe, they’ve even mastered the mountain that is taking their first steps – and turning those little, tiny steps into running leaps.
A baby doesn’t know the weight of a grudge. All they know is that today is another day, and Hell be damned if anyone tries to ruin this day for them.
(Visual representation of what happens when a baby has a bad day).
In my past, I have held on to pain because I believed it is what I deserved. Don’t ask me why. No, seriously, don’t ask. It’s a dark, dark road to misery.
But when I look at my son, sometimes I feel embarrassed at myself. Embarrassed that I did and said some of the things I have done and said, and I’m even more embarrassed that I still punish myself for it today.
For some reason, there are memories my mind is incapable of leaving behind. I used to tell myself that I could lock these memories in a little cupboard in the back of my brain and swallow the key. But the thing is, I did that. And somewhere along the journey to motherhood, that cupboard got so full that the door broke open, and every single thing I have suppressed in the entirety of my life has come spilling out the very forefront of my consciousness.
We all know that depression and anxiety go hand in hand. It’s our brain’s way of survival. Imagine this, a child is constantly berated for, say, drawing on the walls. The stern voices of the guardians then become the child’s inner voice until well into adulthood. And then this adult believes that they can never draw again because of the messages they received from the guardian in childhood.
Anything from, “You’re not good enough,” all the way to, “This is why we should have never had kids”.
But a baby doesn’t need to protect themselves from any future imaginary situation because their brains are not capable of thinking such things. And they don’t need to bring up past memories because, well, I just don’t think they care too much!
So, I have to ask:
At what point do we, as humans, learn that it is wrong to express how we feel? At what age does one see themself as a burden to other people? I ask in the general sense because I know that, for me, this happened at some point in early adolescence. I came to learn that I could no longer trust my guardians to prioritise my psychological wellbeing. I learnt to train my brain to believe that nobody could care for how I felt or what I did.
Somewhere over my formative teenage years, anxiety convinced me that I would never be loved, never be accepted, never comforted in the moments I needed it the most. I sought comfort in past pain and used it as a shield against any future happiness.
Trust me, I know. #DepressionCanSuckMyD
Why? Why was this my brain’s way of protecting future me from making the same mistakes the past me had made? Was holding grudges and avoiding people or places supposed to do anything other than make me miserable?
Babies though, they’re just a different breed of human. I’m convinced of it. The laughter that erupts from their lungs when they’re being tickled, or the look of relief once they see you enter the room. It is a feeling unmatched.
In 2019, Mama Hytes said, “I thought that we were given children to shape and mould, but really, they are sent to us so that they can shape and mould us into the people we were always meant to be.” (Ru Paul’s Drag Race, Season 11 Finale). Or something along those lines. A year ago, I didn’t understand what that statement meant, and probably said something akin to, “Hey, cool, I can totally see that.”
But now I’m not just seeing it. I’m living it.
Sometimes I look at my son and I really have to remind myself that I am *here*. I’m not at school, acting an idiot in front of the boy I liked, and I’m not at work, arguing with a racist manager. I’m *here* holding my baby in my arms while he looks up at me with his big, blue eyes that just scream to me, “Mummy, I love you so much”.
There is such honesty, innocence, and warmth in my son's eyes. It seems to me that his default is happiness unless challenged. He is excited just to be alive. And I think I can learn from that. There is no emotion a baby feels that lasts longer than the thing affecting them. I.e. The child being thrown in the air laughs until his lungs give out, but as soon as the game stops, so does the laughter. A child who has fallen over cries while the shock rattles their brain, but as soon as they get their hugs and kisses, everything is better again.
In any split second, it’s like their brains hit a system refresh and they’re right back to neutral until something else elicits a reaction.
Keywords here: something else elicits a reaction.
In other words, they experience the world for exactly what it is. Not what it has been or what it could be. Just as it is. They move through their day with no expectations as to how it will go.
And having no expectations means having no disappointment.
I imagine, then, that it is only as we get older, as we understand the meaning of promises and shame, that we develop fear and regret, or elation – optimism, even.
As children, we begin to absorb words that are said to us. Like our carers, bullies at schools that say mean things can sometimes have a lasting effect on how we see ourselves in the future. Kind words that are said, kind actions that are done with, toward, or by us have the same effect.
So, perhaps, if my scripts were more positive as a child, my outlook on life as an adult would reflect that.
Over the past ten years, I have been in and out of therapists’ offices talking about all the things that scare or worry me. But now, as a mother, I feel this burning desire to challenge that. I don’t want my anxiety to stop me from leaving the house, nor do I want my depression dredging up cringe-worthy memories when I’m alone with my son.
Who wants to constantly think of past mistakes knowing that there is nothing they can do about it now?
I definitely don’t.
And I don’t always get to decide how or when my thoughts spiral out of control, but I know that I can decide not to let it control me when the moment has passed.
Isn’t this what everyone says though? Whenever people want to give you a quick fix to stop those meandering thoughts?
1. Go for a walk.
2. Make some tea.
3. Do some exercise – yoga?
4. Watch tv/read a book.
5. Talk to a friend.
And the list goes on.
Like, I get it. These are definitely the things that will most likely help me feel better. But let’s be brutally honest here, who actually willingly dedicates their time to “self-care” at a time they feel they’re not deserving?
As ashamed as I am to say, I definitely don’t. Wallowing in my misery is seemingly always the best way forward.
But my son isn’t like that. He knows what pain is. I’m sure of it. He’s fallen off the bed a couple of times (100% through no fault of my own :P), he’s had fevers, he’s had dangerous objects taken away from him and felt the betrayal of a parent’s discipline. He knows pain.
But does that stop him from waking with a smile each morning? Does it even stop him from trying to snatch back said dangerous object right after it’s been confiscated?
He does it all again, because, why the hell not? He either gets what he wants or he doesn’t. And when the moment’s over, he picks himself up and just keeps on keeping on.
I want that.
I want that mental freedom that allows me to acknowledge how little significance my past has in relation to my future.
I want to live in the moment, with no fear of consequence or disappointment or even embarrassment.
I want to be able to laugh at life the same way my baby does.
And I think I can.
I'm prioritising time away from the screen, spending more time with my journal, my books, my poetry.
I gas myself up and remind myself how much of a f*cking Queen I am.
I want to be as gentle with myself as I can. As gentle as I am with my son.
I want to be the kind of parent that can lead by example. And, for me, the worst example I can show my child is how not to enjoy life.
So, when he smiles, I smile. When he cries, I shower him in hugs and kisses.
I see him as the version of me I wish I was, and, strangely, even though he’s literally a baby, he inspires me to do better, and feel better, and think better.
I’m learning to apologise for my mistakes, holding myself accountable for things I have said or done, and, most importantly, moving on. The Amanda I used to know would hold on to those moments and let it stew.
But no more.
No more grudges. No more “waking up on the wrong side of the bed”. No more excuses for stopping myself from doing the things I want to do.
To be honest, I can’t believe it has taken me this long to reach this conclusion. It seems so simple, in theory, but I guess it isn’t. Not really. I’ve already known the steps to take to train my brain to behave itself, but I never did it.
I guess I just believed I never had a reason.
But now, after almost 30 years on this planet, I can gladly say that I do. My son. My partner. Myself.
Anywhooooo, isn't it about time I wrap this post up?
So, to conclude, this is what I have learnt from watching my baby:
1. I am amazing, just the way I am.
2. For being able to create, grow and birth a baby – and then go on to nurturing said baby for what very well could be the rest of my life – my body is amazing, no matter what size or shape.
3. There never is, and never was, any use or benefit on delving into the past.
4. My vision for my future will not be thwarted by the memories of my past.
a. Unless I’m a fortune teller, the future is actually none of my concern.
i. Neither are the opinions of those around me.
5. Eye-contact is important for inter-personal relationships.
6. My voice is important.
7. What happens today is not tomorrow’s concern *
8. The person I am today does not need to live in the shadow of the person I was yesterday.
9. No one is trying to see me fail, and if they are, it’s probably because they’re probably failing harder.
10. I have depression and anxiety. That does not mean that I AM my depressive or anxious thoughts.
a. I’m a f*cking Queen.
*Unless it is actually something you’d need to be concerned about tomorrow i.e. tweeting something racist/sexist or eating some leftovers one day too late.
So, you see, I wrote all of that just to say, being a mother has changed me, shaped me to being on my way to the woman I've always wanted to be - just as Mama Hytes said it would!
For the first ~9 months post-partum, my PND really did have me thinking that my life wasn’t worth living. But, man, when I tell you how much my own kid has inspired me to completely change my life around, you’d think I were on some time type of magical drug!
P.S. I am. The drug is constant screaming and no sleep.
How is your mental health lately? Do you also get stuck looping past memories or preparing yourself for that conversation you may or may not have with that one person you had that thing with that one time and feel justified thinking that you need to run every single scenario in your head just so you’re prepared for when you do actually meet (just me?)? How do you fight that? Or better yet, what inspires you to train your mind to think differently?
Photo by @Dahlak Tarekegn on Pexels (https://www.pexels.com/@dahlak-tarekegn-1107682)