Over the last few months, my daughter has developed a fascination with birds. She’ll hear them chirp, gasp, and say, “bird?” Her pronunciation sounds a lot more like “boiwd,” but she has the same reaction every single time she hears one. She’ll prop herself up on a chair and look out the front window, searching the sky for birds. When she wakes up, I watch her look in the direction of the window, face serious, paying careful attention to their morning calls. Even on a short walk from the door to the car, she’ll do her little gasp, look up at the sky or at the bushes in our driveway and yell, “hi boiwd!”
If I’ve learned anything about toddlers so far, it’s that they become mesmerized by the simplest things and get distracted as quickly as they become fascinated. One minute she’ll be yelling “beep beep” at a truck; the next minute she’ll repeat random letters of the alphabet when she points to written words. Any single song from the Frozen soundtracks will stop her from whatever else she’s doing and get her singing. Then she’ll quickly get distracted by something else, and the cycle repeats itself over and over. But with birds, she doesn’t get distracted right away. She pauses and listens to them. She reacts to their movements and pays attention to what they do.
At the beginning of her bird fascination, I would pay attention to how she noticed the birds. I love to see the world through her eyes, to notice what she is struck by. For a while, when we looked outside at the birds, I looked at her instead. I watched her facial expressions and reactions. I would find myself savoring these seemingly few moments of calm I got with her during the week, eagerly trying to memorize little pieces of her to carry through my day. And when I’m struck with a feeling of defeat, I imagine her little face bright with excitement and her small, airy voice saying, “Bye boiwd.”
I guess we spent a lot of time looking out the windows together because I started to notice myself paying attention to the birds on my own. I notice when they’re chirping extra loudly, where they’re spending the most time in our yard, and which ones seem to live nearby. I started opening my windows overnight so that in the morning I can hear them right outside my window. Instead of waking up and checking my work emails or notifications, I’ve begun the habit of laying in the dark and listening to their songs. It’s a nice, calming reset. In the morning rush of packing the car and heading out for the day, I stop and look at the tiny birds in our driveway. I don’t know what kind they are, and I don’t know how to identify their calls, but for a few minutes, it brings me back to the present moment: no technology, no distractions, no panic about being late or stress about the day ahead–just being in the moment.
It hasn’t always been easy for me to find those moments of peace, especially in motherhood. And you might be thinking, Sure, Jamie, I’ll just look at the birds, and I’ll feel peace, and I won’t be late, and it will totally be worth the extra two minutes I don’t have in my day. A few months ago, I probably would have had that same reaction. And believe me, I can’t dive into every single one of my daughter’s fascinations with the same energy and time. I’ll be honest; there are days when she shows me the same picture of a truck in a book that I’ve already seen 500+ times and I reply with an exhausted, “Wow, how cool.”
As adults we often forget to get excited about the things we see everyday, or to find amazement in the marvels of the things that surround us. In the anxiety of the day, after the heartache that comes with leaving my baby, I have a tendency to get into “go mode” as soon as I leave the house. I will work (and overwork) myself nonstop, often working through lunch and not taking a break until I get in the car to go home. When I get home, I’m usually tired and mentally drained, still in “go mode” until I go to sleep. It’s not always easy for me to pause and relax, but since we started watching the birds together, it’s become a natural escape.
Stopping for a few minutes and echoing my daughter’s observations of the world has made all the difference. Her fascination with birds has taught me a valuable lesson about taking a moment to be in the moment. It doesn’t have to be birds – it could be anything. But pay attention to how your toddler interacts with their world. When they stop and gasp and notice, do the same. Try to see what they see and take a few minutes each day to live how they live: recognizing the wonder in a simple, present moment.