Zaynab turns two this month. As a first time father, I also turn two in my experience as a parent. I feel like we are growing up together.
For the last two years, I’ve watched Zaynab marvel at this world of sights and sounds in what was without question the most accelerated period of learning in her life—putting everything she can into her mouth as a way of connecting with it, pushing her explorations further as she learned to crawl, stand, and walk, establishing her individual identity as she distinguished between this thing called “Zaynab” (she refers to herself in third person) and everything else, and now, using the gift of speech to make sense of her surroundings and negotiate her existence in the world. She is absorbing new observations a mile a minute and developing an awareness of herself as an autonomous, self-determining being.
With all the hours of attention we give our children, we naturally think we are the ones teaching them. But if we dare to pay close enough attention, they have a host of important lessons for us too.
One of my greatest joys is to watch my parents spend time with Zaynab. How she folds into their arms so neatly, and how they shower her with endless warmth and affection. It allows me to imagine something that just never occurred to me before: how thirty years ago, it was probably me they had in their arms and were obsessing over. As a witness to their incredible outpouring of love for their granddaughter, I just feel humbled by how much love they must have felt for me, even if my mom was crying when I was born (she desperately wanted a girl, and I was her third boy, can you blame her?).
Back to the point, it makes me sad for ever raising my voice at my father in a heated argument. And it makes me appreciate my mother’s sacrifices even more, which continue to this day. I should, perhaps, be more kind and say, “I love you” more often.
However different we may all be now, we were all babies once. It’s easy to play it tough now, to overdo our independence, but we have all been recipients of continuous selfless and exhaustive attention, at all hours and in multiple ways. And therefore, no one made themselves. Babies are a reminder that we’re dependent creatures. Today, they need us. Tomorrow, we will need them. Now we hold their hand. Later they will hold ours.
As adults, we struggle to make someone happy or even feel happy ourselves. But ostensibly minor things please babies. Things that have become boring to us, perhaps unfairly so, excite them to no end. Zaynab encourages us to celebrate even the most ordinary experiences of life as precious divine gifts. It’s so easy for her to put a smile on someone’s face.
Philosopher Alain de Botton believes we should hang out with babies as a corrective, to remind us of what really matters. “It’s easy to get sickened by our species: the greed, the status consciousness, the vanity… [Babies] don’t care if the car is big, they don’t pay attention to what one’s job is or how much one’s making. They teach us about the truest, purest, ego-free kind of love, which is about giving affection without an expectation of receiving anything in return.”
I find them to be the utmost spiritual teachers. No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. Babies only care about being with people who are nice to them whatever they look like. From three months of age, research has found they actually understand the difference between ‘mean’ and ‘helpful’ behaviour and have a natural instinct to favour the latter.
Most of all, they’re messengers of hope, testament that no matter how much hate there is in the world, love will never be defeated. To the point that even faced with death and destruction, they have the power to prevent us from feeling too disenchanted with the state of our world.
While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.
- Angela Schwindt