One of my professors this semester told my class that one’s college experience is equal parts education and socialization. Not only should college students excel in the classroom, but they should also learn how to work in groups, meet new people, and converse with professors—especially come time for recommendations. Interacting with adults is a crucial part of maturing and gaining independence, but what most people fail to consider is the fact that there’s something to learn from people of all ages. Even those who are two years old and barely potty trained.
At the beginning of the year I began babysitting for a family who live a few minutes from my college campus. Every Tuesday I hop in my roommate’s car and drive down the freeway to a little green house surrounded by wildflowers and a picket fence. Sounds perfect, right? It is.
The family has three girls and I can’t help but compare them to my own family; I have two sisters and can vividly remember our interactions when we were the ages these girls are now. For the first couple of hours I spend at their home, the older girls are still at school so I’m in charge of the baby. Turns out, she’s taught me more than most college students learn their entire time at school.
Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned from my pink boot-wearing, juice-sipping, baby doll-toting mentor:
Learn to speak a second language.
The words “Ba ba go ni ni” probably don’t mean much to you, but to me they mean that this two year old girl has left her pacifier (“ba ba”) in her crib and recognizes that she can only have it when she goes to sleep (“ni ni”). This phrase is a symbol of independence and is more than gibberish; it’s something to be celebrated. Learning to decipher Gray’s baby talk has been a challenge, but rewarding. The less I have to ask “What was that you just said?” or consult her sisters to translate for me, the closer I feel to Gray and I can tell that my understanding her makes her happy. Knowing that “wazo caw” means, “Let’s play outside with my red car!” feels like an initiation into a secret club, and it’s an honor to have become a member.
Don’t make assumptions.
The first time I woke her from a nap, Gray blinked at me with her big blue eyes and asked, “You have bed, too?” I chuckled before stopping to consider the validity of this question. Babies make no assumptions, no judgments without concrete evidence. If she’s only seen me at her house then how should she know what my house is like? She infers we’re relatively the same—like the way she asks, “You have big girl panties?” (For the record, I do.)—but she won’t jump to conclusions. I see this in every “You have backpack?” “You have mamma?” “You eat dinner, too?” It’s innocent and it’s refreshing.
Counting is overrated.
One of Gray’s favorite games is Big Push, which—as you probably can guess from the title—involves a big push on the swing in their backyard. When we first began playing this game, I tried to turn it into a learning opportunity by telling her to count to three before I pushed her. What followed was much more entertaining: “One…two…eight, nine, ten, blue!” Turns out, counting to three or not produces the same result (“Big Push!”) so what’s the point in counting in the first place?
Tiny isn’t terrible.
Gray’s favorite toy is a small baby doll she calls Tiny Baby and this doll is the only one lucky enough to accompany us on all of our outdoor adventures. Tiny Baby rides on the swing with Gray, sits on her toy car, and watches us eat our snacks from the kitchen counter. Gray’s affinity for this small doll has translated into other everyday objects like dimes (“It’s so tiny!!”), grapes (“No eat tiny one.”), leaves (“Look look! Tiny leaf!”), and even spoons (“Me use tiny one!”). It’s nice to be reminded that bigger isn’t always better; after all, great things come in small packages.
There’s no problem a good book can’t fix.
Whenever she gets into a fit, all I have to say to Gray is, “Wanna look for Gold Bug?” Her favorite book is Richard Scary’s Busy Town and she never tires of pointing out Gold Bug on every page. She’s so familiar with the search that I barely have time to turn the page before her chubby finger lands on the image of the tiny yellow character. This underrated Where’s Waldo search is the cure to every tantrum and bellyache and I wonder if there’s a picture book remedy for twenty-something tragedies.
Celebrate the small stuff.
As I mentioned, Gray is barely potty trained. That means that every time I see her squirming I pick her up and race her to the bathroom while saying, “Come on, let’s go pee pee in the big girl potty!!” in the most excited, high-pitched voice I can manage (as if we are going to go pee pee together). Although I wait outside the door after settling her on her potty training seat, she tends to experience stage fright when it comes to using the big girl potty. That’s where Jelly Beans come in, the best form of bribery since sliced bread (and much, much tastier). When I hear the toilet flush, I peek my head in and say, “Jelly Bean time!” The last time that happened we spent the next 30 minutes sitting in the pantry eating those rainbow morsels until her mom came home. A job well done and a good dessert, darlings, is what life is all about.
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