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What my toddler taught me about meditation

Like every non-parent, I had big, specific ideas about the kind of mother I was going to be. I was going to be the perfect mother, of course, and raise the perfect child.

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How? I’m so glad you asked. For starters, my child would eat all organic food, all the time, and I’d be making it all myself, with nary a processed item in sight. TV? Yeah, right! How about you just use your imagination, my little angel? Plastic toys? Nope, never. Not when you have this empty box to play with! Look, it’s a race car! It’s a rocket ship! It’s a secret hideout! You get the idea: my perfect imaginary children would be little Zen masters, who greeted me with a Namaste every morning and had never known the taste of refined sugar. Three years after giving birth to my son, Ralph, I can tell you that my predictions were somewhere in the vicinity of 0-0.01 percent accurate. My son has, tragically, consumed more than one Happy Meal. He knows how to turn on the iPad and call up an episode of "Curious George". He has more than one plastic, light-up, noise-making toy that drives me completely nuts and were all gifts from loved ones I have yet to forgive. This is the part where I tell you about how humbling it is to be a parent, but first I would like to give myself credit for one small, teeny tiny thing: recently, my toddler discovered he likes to meditate.

OK, no, I can’t take credit for it. I did not teach him to meditate. I am still teaching myself to meditate, and he hasn’t even learned his numbers yet. Toddlers are naturally meditative. You may not realize this while they are weeping over the selection of juice box you offered them, but they really are. They live so deeply in the moment, without the cobwebs or clouds of anxiety or worry. They absorb themselves completely in the task at hand, even when that task is carefully placing pieces of cereal side by side on a sticky kitchen table, or digging for worms in the garden. They notice everything. “Are you happy?” Ralph will ask me from the backseat of the car as I chew my lip, and he already knows the answer. “What’s that sound?” he’ll ask, and before I can say, “nothing,” I’ll hear a lawnmower a few houses away. “I smell something,” he’ll announce loudly as someone walks out of the airplane bathroom, and I’ll quietly shush him while avoiding eye contact with the culprit he’s targeted.

Meditation did not come naturally to me, and some days it is harder than others to sweep away the cobwebs and clouds and all the noise that comes with living in a noisy world. But watching Ralph’s effortless mindfulness is inspiring to me: what could I achieve if I could be more like a taller, potty-trained version of my son? One morning, Ralph woke up earlier than usual and crept into my room during my morning meditation. My son is just a human child, so it’s not like he just sat there and allowed me to finish—that has happened to exactly zero parents of toddlers ever in any situation. He wanted to know what I was doing, and why my eyes were closed, and could he join me? I said sure, and he settled into my lap. I doubt he kept his eyes closed, and I can’t tell you where his mind was, but he breathed deeply and sat quietly and when it was all over, asked if we could listen again. Editor’s Note: if you loved this piece as much as we did, take a look at Nora’s book “It’s Okay to Laugh”. It’s wonderful.

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Toddlers are naturally meditative.

Nora McInerny Purmort

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