Spirit Saturday: Living Like A Toddler

The other day I went running. And as I ran I was thinking. I call this runking.

I was wondering what makes us truly come alive?

So then I asked the next question.

What kind of humans have I seen that are fully alive?

The answer came running at me. It literally threw its arms around me. With total disregard to appropriate public behavior, personal space, normal decibel levels, and thought to anything but the one emotion that coursed through it, my little toddler yelled, “Mama! Mama! Mama!” shot out the door and down the sidewalk, racing towards me, and leapt into my arms as if we’d been parted for fifty years.

She was happy to see me. And she shared that joy with me.

That is living.

J.M. Barry says of fairies: “Fairies are not all bad. Sometimes they are all good. But fairies have to be one thing or the other, because being so small they unfortunately have room for one feeling only at a time.”

He could have been talking about toddlers, too. What a terror to be consumed with anger you cannot control, so that all you are is a raging ball of fiery rage. Isn’t this why they sometimes call toddlers little terrors?

But the opposite of that–to feel joy so strong that it radiates from you like an energy burst, that would be a mighty fine feeling. This type of fierce joy, wild thankfulness for the moment, and consuming emotional high is something that we should hold onto from our childhood. It will help you live.

Another thing I see in my toddler that makes her so alive is her ability to learn.

The National Academy of Sciences reports that eighty percent of the brain’s total growth and development occur by the age of three.

That’s a lot of learning, y’all.

Basically every minute of her day is either spent in sleeping, eating, or learning. During play, she’s introduced to hinges, texture, velocity, rhythm, ethics, momentum, and it’s only when she’s older and those mysteries are explained do they cease to be a wonder. You know kids fascination with buttons? When I was young, I thought the dream job would to be a cashier at Wal-Mart because GOOD GOLLY LOOK AT ALL THOSE BUTTONS!!! Now I see my kids watch the cashiers with envy and fascination. I wonder if any of those cashiers took the job because it’s exactly what they wanted to do as a child: Professional Button Pusher.


Sometimes I’ll remark to my husband, “the kids are so busy. and we’ve done nothing all day.” But we both know that’s a lie. They’re not just running from toy to toy, making forts, asking questions, reading books, doing chores (or not doing chores), turning off and on lights, playing hide and seek, and playing with their plastic figurines for HOURS . . . really, they are learning about the way this world works.

I don’t think my brain can handle so much learning anymore. I can take like, one new thing a day. And I usually don’t even remember that forever.

To be truly alive, I think you have to love and pursue learning. This (of course) doesn’t just mean academic learning. You could be dumb as a nail regarding academia but sharp as a whip in regards to people. The learning is what’s important. You’re not stagnant. Your mind, heart, spirit, and strength are always moving and growing and changing. That’s living.

Another thing about my toddler is her lack of pretentiousness.

When she tells me she likes my drawing, I believe her. She says what’s in her heart, without regard to social appropriateness or cues or norms.

As we walked into the grocery store a woman came out wearing a long skirt and heels, and my girl shouted, “Oh you have such beautiful shoes you look like a princess! Did you see her, mama, she is so beautiful!” It didn’t matter to my girl what her weight, height, skin color, or anything else was–she was just amazed at the wonderful white heels and long green skirt.  (Of course, that unpretentiousness can also go the other way. A man with curly, slick hair and a bowling shirt walked past our cart and my little girl said, “He’s a bad man, I don’t like him.”)

I think being open and honest with those around you, when it stems from a loving heart, is a part of what living is about. And seeing right and wrong for what they are, instead of society telling you what they are, is important. This purity and honesty is a beautiful thing to see in someone. It’s a noble thing, and I see it in toddlers.

Yeah, speaking of nobility . . . my toddler is stuffing flour down her pants. I better go and teach her society’s norms of appropriate location for flour.

What qualities do you see in people who are fully alive?

What does it take to re-awaken yourself?

Worldly Wednesday: Chuen Baby

I was inspired by Marci Kennedy’s post about Amanda, her beloved and inspiring best friend, who was killed by a drunk driver. Marci asked what person was beloved and inspiring to her readers.

For me, it would have to be Chuen Baby.

I met him when I was working at an orphanage in Taiwan.

He arrived before I got there, deposited gently in a cradle from the back of a stork. No, not really. He was given to the orphanage by a hooker mom with a heart of gold. Um . . . no. When the night guard found him at the orphanage gate, he’d kicked free of his blankets, naked in the cold air, and was squalling, in a rage at being left in a box as if he were no more important than a delivery of chop suey. It wasn’t a clean box, either. It was dirty and moldy.

That’s not how it should be.

Aw now, when I saw him . . . my heart melted. I know you’re not supposed to have favorites when working with kids, and it’s not that I had a favorite but . . . he was my favorite. He was so tiny! We didn’t know exactly how old he was but he couldn’t have been more than 2 months old. He had a head chock full of black shiny hair that stood straight up on his head as if he’d just sucked on a battery. And he had a cry so loud it could wake the man on the moon. Oh, his sweet baby smell, and ridiculously soft baby skin, and he had this expression sometimes when I was rocking him–like he was actually looking at me. Like he knew me. Oh, I love that baby.

Chuen Baby. That’s what we called him.

It’s funny how you connect to some people. I mean, what was it about this baby as opposed to all the others that made my heart combust with love? And generally speaking, how can you connect so quickly with some friends, while others you have to work awhile at your friendship before things click? It’s a strange thing, human connection.

I was on the night shift. In between feedings, I’d just hold Chuen Baby, and we’d sleep together. I swear . . . if I hadn’t been a poor college student on her spring break I’d have adopted him.

But then we got some good news! He was wanted by an American couple working in Taiwan. I was so excited that I’d get to meet his parents, I was so excited that at such a young age he’d get to bond with his mother, I was incredibly teary at the thought of all the love he’d be getting soon.

My Chuen Baby had a home.

It was a strange drop. The family wanted to meet at the train station, around 9 at night. Hm, okay whatever. The orphanage director, a short man with a heart bigger than the ocean, said I could deliver Chuen Baby with him. So I packed Chuen Baby a diaper bag, change of clothes, and bottles. On the ride there I cooed to him, kissed his cheeks a hundred times, cried over him–in happiness that he had a mom and dad, and in sadness that I’d never get to see him again.

And then we saw them there. His parents. They were very tall, and their elementary age kid was running around their legs. I almost ran to them, picturing their excitement at getting to meet their son. But she didn’t reach for him.

We greeted each other. She didn’t reach for Chuen baby. The director looked nervously at me, “This is Chuen baby,” he kept saying, “but you can re-name him if you want.”

“We want to,” they said.


Ugh, my heart was breaking at this point. But I thought maybe I was over reacting. I held him out to her. “Here he is. He’s so precious. So, so precious.”

And I gave him to her. She looked him over, then asked us how our trip was.

“Fine,” we said.

She didn’t ask any more questions. And she didn’t kiss him.

That’s not how it should be.

Awkwardly, I told her when his next feeding was, and what we’d included in the diaper bag. She didn’t meet our eyes, and the man seemed just as distant.

I didn’t want to leave Chuen baby with them.

“We’d better go,” she said.

I told them again about his schedule, eating and sleeping times. They nodded, cold and stoic.

“Can I give him another kiss?” I asked.

I leaned over and kissed him one last time. Then they left.

The director and I looked at each other. I was hoping he’d say that I’d imagined their lack of interest in their new son.

“That was strange,” he said as we walked through the dark train station. “I’ve handed off thousands of babies in my life, and I’ve never seen a response like that.”

Oh, my heart.


Loving and connecting to other human beings is heart wrenching, but it cannot be helped. Not when there are babies like Chuen out there.


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