No elbows on the table. Choke up on the bat with two strikes. Lefty loosey, righty tighty. Don't eat yellow snow.
My parents taught me many lessons while I was growing up. Since turning the tables and becoming a dad, I have done my share of passing them along (especially the one about yellow snow). I have shared both lessons my parents taught me and those I've had to learn the hard way.
But I think I've learned more from Fitz and Lou than I've taught them.
Seeing the world through their eyes as they experience life has created some of the most joyful moments of parenting. They can be present, honest, creative, and content in ways that many adults have lost (myself included).
Whether they are watching TV, eating, or playing outside, the boys are engrossed in what they're doing. They're not looking for a distraction or a burst of dopamine from a screen. There's no itch in their pockets, and they don't feel phantom phone vibrations.
Meanwhile, I've already switched tabs or grabbed my phone a dozen times while writing this paragraph. Even if I don't have a screen in front of me, my mind wanders while doing everyday things like cooking, reading, or bathing my kids.
I have a heat source, cooking tools, and food available in my house, which we didn't have for 99.9% of human history. I have access to millions of books that each distill hundreds or thousands of hours of the writer's time. I have two amazing, healthy kids that still want me to bathe them and still want to spend time with me (for now).
These are all near-miracles. And are all otherwise mundane situations that deserve the same attention that my kids give an episode of Curious George.
"Kids say the darnedest things" is a cliché for a reason. They say whatever is on their minds, and they can be honest to a fault. Recently asked if he remembers who we went on a play date with last week, Fitz responded, "Ummmm... I don't know."
How often are we comfortable saying "I don't know"? If you're anything like me, it's easy when talking to your spouse or a close friend. But put me in a setting where I feel like I should know the answer? I'll say anything before saying that I don't know.
Kids tell the unvarnished truth, whether about a play date, something that happened at school, if they're happy or sad or upset, or whether they like what you made for dinner.
As adults, we're concerned about protecting our ego, our image, and others' feelings, so we don't always tell the truth. Having the confidence and humility to say "I don't know" would make us all a little better off in the long run (though it's a lot better to say about a play date than a real date).
One thing to notice with kids is how much time they spend being creative. I'm fortunate to have joined in on "coffee meetings" using old Rubbermaid toys, have packages delivered to me by the youngest ever delivery men, and play a "trash truck" game where a bucket of stuffed animals is the trash and the crib is the trash truck. Not to mention all of the drawing, acting like Pixar characters, and playing a game that involves stacking foam blocks and then tackling them like tackling dummies.
Pay close enough attention, and you'll realize that kids are constantly creating. The question is: where does that go? As we grow into adults, why does creativity morph into consumption? I used to write, make up games with my friends, and play piano. But I stopped playing piano as soon as my parents no longer made me do it and I quit writing and making up games when they were no longer cool.
If kids are any indicator, humans are born to create. How can we re-capture that magic as adults? Maybe you've wanted to write, learn an instrument, get into photography, or learn how to DJ. Maybe even make up a game next time you're with friends (I'll admit it -- I also have fun tacking the foam blocks like they're tackling dummies).
The first home my wife and I lived in was a 1,100-square-foot townhouse with a wet basement, creaky floors, and a roof that rained inside whenever it rained outside. If you sat on the toilet, you had to sit sideways or put your feet in the bathtub. The sink had to have been installed by elves because it was a foot lower than standard bathroom sinks.
While we loved our home and all of its quirks, we were ecstatic to move into our current house, which has a dry basement, a leak-free roof (knock on wood), and a bathroom where you can spread your arms without touching walls. But throw in two kids and almost six years of adaptation, and suddenly our house feels cramped. We're talking about knocking down walls, building a porch, or renovating the back to add space.
Which is insane.
Our old townhouse was built in the 1920s, and families of four have lived in it. Our current house was built in the 1950s, and even bigger families have lived here. There's no reason we need more space, but thanks to hedonic adaptation, we feel the need to have more space.
In contrast, do you know what makes Fitz and Lou happy? A cardboard box. Or an envelope. Or a laundry basket that they pretend is a skid steer loader. Despite thousands of dollars of toys gifted to them, they are happy with the simplest things. A couple of balloons kept them busy for a week.
Stoicism has a lot to say about hedonic adaptation (that is fascinating and I may write about one of these days). The next time you feel the itch for the new iPhone, new car, or new house, remember that your current iPhone, car, and house were once the things you most wanted.
And remember that Fitz and Lou find more joy in hitting each other in the face with a pillow than they ever have with a $100 toy.
So, pay attention to your kids or the kids around you in life. Whether presence, honesty, creativity, contentment, or some other lesson that resonates with you, kids can teach us more than we can teach them.
And, don't forget: