Life Lessons from My 6-Year-Old

Annika being nice to our adorable yet frustrating dog

My oldest daughter just turned 6 this weekend. She has taught me a lot about myself, about parenting, and about how to face the world in the last 6 years. Now I will share some of these lessons with you.

Photo by Matthew Henry, via Burst

Celebrate All Wins, Both Big and Small

Annika has developmental delays. That means that at this point, her younger (20-month-old) sister can do more for herself than Annika can. It also means that Annika has spent countless hours in physical, occupational and speech therapy, along with more specialists than I care to count at the moment.
The biggest thing being her mom has taught me is to celebrate the “inch stones” not just the milestones.
Celebrate small wins, not just the big ones. For example, I recall where I was and what toy she first passed from one hand to another. This was a big deal for her, and I was so excited to tell her physical therapist about the new skill.
This spring she started using her fingers to purposefully tap on the iPad as opposed to scratching indiscriminately. You would be surprised how many tiny achievements there are, often overlooked when kids “just pick them up” without really being taught.
This carries over to other kids and ourselves as well–celebrate the small wins your kids achieve. Celebrate the B- your child got on the test she was really worried about. Maybe you only served a box of macaroni and cheese for dinner, but you made food and your children are fed.  These are wins. Lower the bar for what deserves to be celebrated. 

It’s OK Not To Be The Best; Just Be The Best You

I always say, “we are trying to help Annika reach her full potential, whatever that is.” This should be true for all of our kids and ourselves.
It’s unfair to set anyone up for failure with unrealistic expectations. Maybe your child isn’t college bound or athletic enough to make the team. Maybe you won’t make it back into those jeans from 2010 or be able to keep up with a Pinterest-worthy home and meal plan. That’s OK. Just be the best you can be. Which leads me to the next lesson:

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Annika doesn’t seem to realize how she struggles compared to other kids. (I can’t know for sure, as she is nonverbal.)  But to me, it seems like she is focused on herself and her immediate surroundings. She is blissfully unaware (again, I think) that some kids her age are reading and writing and playing soccer. She’s aware of her own little world.
Likewise, eyes on your own papers, ladies.
Yes, I have compared myself to another mom who clearly goes to the gym way more than I do. If she can do it and look like that, I should too. No.
We are not the same. We all have our own struggles, lives, body types, coping mechanisms and schedules to contend with. Again, I need to be the best me I can be. (Could I be a “me” who is more toned, but eats fewer cookies? Probably. But I’m not convinced that’s the “best me.”) 

Be Nice To Everyone

Annika has no Stranger Danger. Rather, if you make eye contact with her, she thinks you are friends. She will walk up to you and want you to hold her or at the very least, engage with her. She does not care about race, gender, sexual orientation, or political or religious affiliation. She sees a smiling face and wants to say hello. She forces me to engage with strangers, since she can’t talk but obviously reaches out to them. I have to introduce her to them.
Sure, I was hoping to catch up on my book while I was in the waiting room last week, but instead Annika wooed two elderly adults waiting for their own appointments, and I think we were all better for it.
The gentleman asked me about my (husband’s) Jumpmaster shirt and the woman reviewed the National Geographic pictures with Annika. I think the truth is that Annika is brightening their days more than anything, but you can be the Annika in someone else’s day. I compliment strangers, smile and say hello, and say thank you and I appreciate you. Be like Annika– be nice to everyone.

You Can Do Hard Things

Annika works so hard. Sometimes I feel sad or frustrated on her behalf–things don’t come easily to her, whether it’s maneuvering a fine-motor toy, getting a Cheez-It into her mouth, or walking up the stairs without assistance. But she doesn’t quit, even when it takes her multiple tries. (Unless it’s the end of the PT session, and she is done.)
I have learned that I can do hard things as well. I can navigate insurance and new medical jargon, juggle appointments, and advocate for my child. I can run a household while my husband is deployed. I can survive three connecting international flights with a car seat, a carry-on, and a non-walking toddler. I can carry two kids at once. Many of you have given birth and/or raised children without a spouse consistently at your side. Others have been the ones to leave and endured separation from your children. You home school; you run the PTA or marathons. You mow the lawn, work full time, stay home with kids, endure Frozen for the 76th time, make dinner, and keep your home clean enough to prevent it from being condemned.
You are killing it. These are all hard things. Give yourself some credit. Things that may not seem hard, really are achievements that should be celebrated. (See point #1.)

Go With The Flow and Find Joy in the Everyday

Annika is my favorite shopping buddy. She is excited to go anywhere and do anything. That doesn’t mean she never gets whiny and bored, but in general, she is along for the ride and happy to be there. She adapts well and finds something to engage her wherever she is. The other day she played with a touch-lamp for five minutes while I folded laundry. She giggled the whole time and was filled with joy.
Find your lamp.
Find small joys. It may be an iced coffee to get you through a long afternoon, an episode of your favorite show, reading a book, or a relaxing shower after the kids go to bed. But take the time to appreciate the small things and how they can make your life better. 

I could talk about her all day, but I hope something here will strike a chord with you! Please share what your kids have taught you!