Michael Mendizza

Writer, Filmmaker

Too much happiness?


Parenting, Playful Advice

The everyday miracles happen so fast. It’s hard to catch them. Carly is 2.4 years young and communicating with my wife and with Barbora, our au pair, mostly in Czech, and with dear old ta-ta mostly in English without one second of study or memorization. Astonishing!

This morning Carly snuggled in the big bed between Z and me, singing some merry tune. She held up her hand, pointed to a finger and said, ‘this is mama.’ Pointing to the next finger, she said, ‘this is ta-ta,” and the next, ‘this is babi’ (Czech for grandma). Then she proceeded to count her fingers in Czech – jeden, dva, tri,ctyri, sedm. I appreciate this sounds fairly pedestrian. Goldilocks and the Three Bears comes to mind. But I laid there astonished again. Finger number one was a metaphor for mama. Finger two stood in place for me, ta-ta, and here you have the foundation for all higher mental processes: E=MC2, poetry, the international bill of human rights, the ability to create almost anything, dancing on Carly’s fingertips, when just a short while ago she was barely walking. Need I go on? The exponential speed, the depth and breadth of her, and every child’s development, is no less than miraculous. Imagine if we maintained this pace all the days of our lives instead of racing up evolution’s hill as we all did, only to slip slowly into habitual conformity, spending most of our lives repeating ourselves after age eleven, or if we are lucky, twenty-three? Habits are great. Not having to learn how to tie our shoes every time frees us to discover and learn new things. But, after our explosive beginning, mostly we don’t. This observation, that we tend to stagnate instead of continue to develop unimagined capacities, is the bedrock of Joseph Chilton Pearce’s collected works and of course many others.

A few friends gathered to celebrate my turning another year. We met at a local restaurant, white table cloth and champagne glasses. We had a space more or less to ourselves. Carly was invited. She knew all the guests and sat in the booth, no booster or highchair, between close friends who love her. A waitress poured wine and recited the specials of the day. We asked for bread and butter to get Carly started and proceeded at our leisurely adult pace and conversations. As with lying in bed, I was again astonished to watch Carly engage each guest in her own way. One person would hand Carly a slice of bread. Another would ask if she would like some butter. As our very adult conversations spun around the table, Carly would slide down and make her way to the other side and sit with another and strike up a conversation about the water or salt shaker. Just as we were connecting via our adult abstractions Carly was doing exactly the same in her way. The first course came and this began a new Carly conversation, carefully reaching and tasting, smiling and rejecting. There was no directing or coaching or expectation that she would pretend to be all grown up. Appropriateness was the guide and this is exactly what took place. Again, Carly is just two and a quarter. There was no acting-out or spilling. No fussing. At one point she and one of the guests held hands and walked out of the room where she explored a flight of wooden stairs. Another excursion took her to the manager’s desk, where she found a dish of macaroons awaiting her pleasure. She brought her cookie back and offered her companions a taste. This went on for over two hours. It was amazing.

It may sound like I am bragging about a rare and exceptional child. I am not. What I find revealing is that children want to belong. When their needs are respected, they respect the needs of others. All the whining and crying, the temper tantrums and times out are explosive fits of frustration and rage because they are not seen and respected, because their needs are not honored. This is lawful. Children do onto others what is done to them. The seeds of violence, from endless wars to domestic violence, gangs and rape, are sown very early. So, too, are the roots of compassion, empathy, charity and selfless affection.

Carly and I pushed a tiny shopping cart around the market this evening. She examined and placed a few treasures in the basket; six eggs, a big carton of coconut milk, and a small package of organic animal crackers which I quickly opened. Why go to the market if you can’t nibble on a cookie along the way? Carly sama (Czech for I’ll do it by myself) she said, reaching for the bag of crackers. She reached in the bag and held out a cookie for me to savor, a prerequisite in her beautiful mind for having another herself. If I accept another, then so will she. This sharing went on for a couple of isles where she found other treats. There was the bakery isle where mom usually picks up a few cookies. I shook my head. ‘No,’ I said, ‘we already have cookies in the bag.’ She carefully placed her losses back on the rack. Then it was off to the bulk food bins. She opened the raisin lid and sampled one. Behind that was another bin with organic fig Newtons, a regular stopping spot. Again I shook my head. ‘We have animal cookies in the basket,’ I said. This time there was a bursting of resistance as she desperately reached in again. ‘Please don’t fight me,’ I said, with a tender whisper. She relaxed and offered me another animal cracker from the torn bag in the cart and I offered her one in return. So, after all, the terrible twos aren’t terrible unless that is what we create.

Carly still nurses at bedtime. Long ago she fell asleep as she and Z enjoyed this special time together. Now she comes tapping on my home-office door after with her magic blanket. I scoop her up and take my place in the rocking chair, lights out. I whisper, reminding her what a beautiful day she has had, doing whatever she has done. ‘Now it is time to rest so you will be full of energy to play the same tomorrow,’ I say. I’ve explained to her often that this is what rest is for. She tosses and turns for a few minutes. Then I place her gently in her bed next to mine. Tonight she reached up and took my hand wrapping her tiny fingers around my thumb and she fell fast asleep. No it isn’t possible for a child to experience too much happiness.

Michael Mendizza