It’s a tragedy of growing up that we so quickly forget what it feels like to be a toddler. Can you imagine what the world would look like if we could call to mind that feeling as an adult? I believe that we can sometimes capture a small fragment of it, but the true immersive experience happens only once, and only fleetingly. While parents trudge through their child’s toddlerhood, it can seem endless (when a five minute tantrum on the grocery store floor seems to last five days, at least), but in retrospect it passes in the blink of an eye, barely here and then gone again. Just ask the parent of a third grader and watch them fade into dreamy memories of distant chubby wrists and big eyes and wet, sticky kisses.
From the outside, it’s magic: so pure, so intense, and so important — every second of every day is taken up with the kind of learning, growth, and development that will happen just once in a lifetime. I believe that toddlers can teach us some of the most valuable life lessons, if we can learn to tune in. It’s probably a good thing for society as a whole that we quickly move forward from the full-bodied intensity of the toddler experience. Polly Elam describes beautifully how we always retain a little bit of our toddler self inside of us and it tries to emerge at the most inconvenient times (get cut off in traffic? your response most likely comes from the toddler in you), but it’s rarely the best of our toddler self. Have you had the privilege of seeing the best of a toddler? There is nothing like it: the enthusiasm, the passion, the great, shining love they have to give. Those gorgeous toddler qualities are how we all survived toddlerhood intact, I imagine — they are a parental lifeline during the less pleasant toddler scenes.
I’m trying to record some of the more fabulous toddler moments we’re fortunate enough to experience in our classroom on a daily basis. Here is one such moment from last week that still makes me laugh out loud to remember: One child, who was battling a cold, was suddenly overcome with exhaustion and was laying across the lap of her primary caregiver, snuggling a blanket and sniffling and hiccuping away the last of a meltdown. Her primary caregiver softly sang “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Another bright-eyed toddler stood by the caregiver’s shoulder, an enormous smile on his face as he quietly observed the scene. The caregiver stopped singing and the smiling toddler instantly burst into enthusiastic applause, throwing his arms apart and clapping his hands together with such energy that he nearly toppled over, all while shouting, “YAAAAAAY!” The caregiver turned to him, starting to laugh, and he promptly threw both arms in the air and began to sway from side to side, ready for the next song to begin (in his mind, we could see, this child was at a rock concert, having the absolute time of his life).
That is the toddler experience: life is awesome and you are a rock star.