What my two-year-old niece has taught me about life as a 20-something
Watching my niece take her first breath was a life-altering experience. In many ways, the start of her life was also the beginning of mine.
When my niece was born, I was a recent college graduate with no job prospects, still living in my parents’ house. After accepting a job as a cashier at McDonald’s (yes, McDonald’s), I felt like I had done the whole college “thing” wrong, as if I should have been further along so that I could give my dad something more to be proud of. But three months later, my niece was born, shifting my outlook on life almost immediately.
She became my alarm clock, my muse, and a reflection of the many reasons why there was more than just blood and genes connecting us. As I witnessed her navigating a brand new world, she helped me to better understand my own life and emotional needs.
“Mine! Mine! Mine!”
Straight out the womb, babies learn the power of possession; what’s mine is mine. This toy? Mine. This bottle of warm milk? Mine. Your love and constant attention? Yep, that’s mine too. People always say, “Your twenties are your time to be selfish,” and “This is when you put yourself first!” In theory, that’s not too bad of a concept; you should take care of your personal needs, especially if you’re the type who person lays your life down for others on a 24/7 basis.
Still, the actual lesson for me to learn is how to relinquish control over my life.
Sometimes it’s okay to slightly loosen our grip, to not hold on to things so tightly. From our juice cup to that toxic relationship we can’t seem to leave, we want to have full control over our lives, even when it’s not the healthiest or best thing for us. It’s okay to weld that iron fist into the gentle grasp we were all instinctively born with. As we grow and mature, we must find the balance between personal control and emotional health, even when it hurts.
One of the most pivotal moments in our development is learning to walk. There’s freedom in taking those first few steps after being confined to a womb, then crawling on our hands and knees. Being able to generate motion and depend on one’s own strength to get from place to place by running, jumping, and skipping is an invigorating discovery.
But toddlers aren’t the only ones understanding how to plant their feet on the ground.
When we graduate college and must embrace the hard truths of forced adulthood, we find ourselves carefully placing one foot in front of the other all over again. We may stumble, trip, and fall flat on our faces sometimes (most times), but the same patience and love shown to our 2-year-old selves is what we need now.
Toddlers embarking on the “Terrible Twos” are known for their unrestricted urge for movement. They run, they jump off beds, they kick their legs when they don’t get their way.
They don’t sit still.
Then, as life would have it, we find ourselves in the same predicament later on down the line — only this time, the stakes are much higher than getting a timeout.
We’re cutting our hair to fit our new look while simultaneously moving in and out of relationships and jobs that no longer “suit us.” We move from place to place, city to city, in hopes of finding a better life elsewhere.
As soon as we grow bored of our current situation, we’re quickly distracted by the shiny new thing that looks better than the thing already in our hands.
We don’t sit still either.
As much as we run around to try avoiding our problems, they always return to us, taking new forms like incessant calls from bill collectors. There’s no hide-and-seek in adulthood; there’s only us, facing the music.
Let’s get past the false notion that “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” because they do… a lot.
Ever felt so lonely for no reason other than it being a Wednesday afternoon?
Ever drifted off into a sequence of thoughts about life choices, climate change, and bills due at the end of the month…until you burned the Brussel sprouts you had roasting in the oven?
These moments reignite those childlike reflexes almost instantly. As toddlers, emotional breakdowns manifest as flagrant tantrums and screaming fits, while our adult selves are supposed to more quietly cope with our sadness.
We are taught that once we get to a certain age, it is no longer appropriate to display outward emotions through tears and pouting. Kicking and screaming in the middle of the grocery store isn’t the best way to display our frustrations — but there’s a healthy medium between the two. You have the right to find yours.
There’s endless research proving how many developmental milestones we hit when we’re toddlers. Are you a parent with a toddler? Do you want your child to learn a new language or play a classical instrument? Now is the time! Young minds are so easily molded.
Think of your 20-something brain the same way. These years are when we begin to search out our purpose, when we start to consider how to use our gifts and talents for the greater good. We let go of our childish ways and become more socially conscious, raising our awareness and increasing involvement in our community.
Toddlers, like my niece, are born with the instinct to love and not hate — we can take a few notes from them.
Children don’t know heartbreak or hate, disloyalty or deceitfulness. They just love, freely.