6 Ways My Child Is Teaching Me To Be 40

by Leslie Kendall Dye
Originally Published: 

I’ve actually begun to feel wise. Not in a Gandalf sort of way, but in a worldly-urban-woman-hitting-my-stride sort of way. And then it hit me: I am not wiser because I’m (almost) 40. I’m wiser because my 3-year-old daughter—for whom middle age is not even an abstract concept much less something she can spell—has taught me a lot of stuff.

I’m willing to share these lessons here.

1. There is no need to wash your hair every day. For years, I’ve noted with frustration that my hair looks its best first thing in the morning—just as I’m about to get in the shower. Why, then, did it never occur to me to avoid flattening it with a stream of hot water and beginning all over again? My daughter does this for days on end and lo and behold, her hair looks fabulous. Just think what I’m going to save on shampoo!

2. Books are not destroyed by a little bit of bath water spilling on their pages. That dried crinkle on the corner of page 10 gives it a nice parchment feel and, like the Skin Horse’s ragged hair, the book’s wear and tear pronounces it an object that has been loved and become real. (Although we still argue about dust jackets. I am pro, my daughter opposed, and we spend much of our day in a tug-of-war, dressing and undressing her picture books.)

3. Pushing down hard when you color will make for vibrant pictures. Fearing the loss of the perfect point of a Crayola tip is a recipe for anxiety, not to mention pale sketches. In short: Go for it! When I was in college, my best friend and I made a trip to the Bloomingdale’s cosmetic counter, where we purchased lipstick and perfume. We rushed to our dorm with our grown-up Clinique boxes. My lipstick stayed in its green box for weeks. I couldn’t bear to spoil its newness. Meanwhile, my friend had a ball applying hers and going out on the town. Whether it’s a lipstick or a crayon or a hike up a mountain, the bold move is the only one that yields results.

4. Style is merely confidence. Women’s magazines have softball-pitched this idea since the beginning of women’s magazines, but with a healthy dose of advertising that undercuts this message. You can achieve confidence by wearing a sweater that fits your “body type”—or if you are hiding under a mountain of airbrushing and high-def makeup—the magazines promise. My daughter, meanwhile, (mis)matches any old outfit, cuts her own hair whenever the whim strikes and loves herself without reservation. She skips down the street, never comparing herself to others. In other words, she has style.

5. Cuddling is heaven. Somewhere in my busy 20s, I got a bit hard. Maybe it was the daily subway commutes or the exhausting auditions, but even though I adored my boyfriend, who became my husband, I loved to have lots of space in the bed. After sharing the bed with a newborn and then toddler, I have been reawakened to the joy of skin-on-skin, of synching my breath with a loved one’s and falling into an ocean of sleep. Even if it involves a bit of sweating in the summer, I now like to fall asleep pretzel-like with my husband. I hug my friends more and take time to feel their skin when I do. I snuggle with my toddler after she’s fallen asleep, inhaling the scent of her dirty scalp. It makes me aware of being alive, to quote an old song lyric. Life is short. Cuddling makes it last longer.

6. Letter writing stretches your brain muscles; patience truly is its own reward. My daughter is of course just at the stage of forming the letters of the alphabet, but sitting with her and telling her what letter comes next in the word she wants to write, exhaling as I watch her form letters too big to fit on one line, simply waiting for the words to be completed, has increased my mental resilience. I am now reminded of the satisfactions of writing letters to friends. You must find a good writing pen and pad, you must steady your hand to form your best penmanship, and you must sit and think about all the things you want to tell your friend, and in full-sentence form. It is a slow process, as is the mail, but how wonderful it is to imagine the letter making its way across the country or the world and arriving in a mailbox, waiting to brighten someone’s day. The agitations of our sped-up world are eased by performing some tasks that require a lot of patience.

There it is: some wisdom I’ve acquired from a 3-year-old. There’s more, but it requires a lot of patience to write out the rest. Besides, I have about 36 hours on the clock, and I want to spend at least 12 of them cuddling.

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