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11 Things My 11-Month-Old Niece Has Taught Me About Life

Modern Parent

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There probably are about 9,000 posts about what babies and toddlers have taught Medium writers on this platform already… probably.

I have nothing to back this up, but I still contend it’s a conservative estimate.

I have read none of them.

Why? Because I have an 11-month-old niece of my own to draw from.

Here’s what little Emma has taught me about life within her first 11 months on this Earth.

1. Your desires matter.

Have your mindset on something? Could you make sure you get it? Scream, whine… make puppy eyes. Anything’s fair in Love and Life.

2. Trust your gut.

Whether it’s new people or new foods — go with what comes up for you first.

When Emma first met an electrician and friend of the family, she started screaming and crying whenever he looked at her. When her mother gave her parsnips for the first time, Emma scrunched up her nose.

She doesn’t consider how her reaction makes other people feel; she simply goes with her gut reaction. We all need more of that!

3. Cats are awesome!

Emma will perk up whenever one of our cats is near her. She squees and reaches out, and sometimes our cats deign to allow her to pet them.

While Emma is interested in all kinds of animals, cats hold a special allure for her.

4. Spending time with loved ones trumps anything else.

One night, when her MD mother returned very late from the clinic, Emma made sure to stay up for another two and a half hours to enjoy playtime with her mum.

It was a work night, so mum was supposed to head to bed by the time she returned from work (see the flaw in this?), but she made the time to play with her daughter because that’s what counts.

5. There are only two types of food.

Nope, I’m not talking about ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy.’ Emma has no concept of health. All she knows is taste.

Do I enjoy this food right now, or don’t I?

If not, then why should I eat more?

As someone with a history of disordered eating, this hit me hard. Why would I consider eating avocados if I don’t like the taste, no matter how “healthy” they are supposed to be?

6. Teeth aches are the WORST.

Because of OUCH.

But seriously. Teething pains seem to be horrible. I, fortunately, don’t remember mine and have been spared any root-canal-related misery (knock on wood!), but from what I witness all around me, there is no worse pain.

7. Chaos is inevitable.

Whenever I restore her toys to their original state, Emma usually grows upset and destroys the order again.

No matter if it’s a board full of figures or an intricate tower of building blocks, Emma will tear it down.

She seems to have it figured out: Order is an illusion. Control is but smoke and mirrors. We should embrace chaos and uncertainty as early as possible.

I do hope Emma can maintain this attitude for the rest of her life.

8. Gender is meaningless.

Since I’m nonbinary, I am neither Emma’s uncle nor aunt. I chose the term “Tonke,” which is German for untie/uncle.

For my siblings, both by blood and my spirit, I am their “bester” (from Bruder/Schwester, the German binary of brother/sister).

To Emma, though, I am me. The person who always picks her up when she wants to be carried, who can’t say no to her big puppy eyes. Who will support her no matter what?

Because that’s what counts. Not the gender I was assigned at birth.

9. Be wary of strangers.

In the first few months of her life, Emma would smile up at anyone who approached her.

By now, she is more hesitant to shower strangers with affection.

When my partner came for a weekend visit and dropped by my sister’s (after undergoing rapid tests to ensure everyone’s safety), Emma encountered them for the first time.

While she beamed at me and stretched out her arms, she kept eying them skeptically. By the end of the night, she would accept a spoon that they had picked up from the floor after Emma dropped it. Yet that’s as far as her succession went.

As a very optimistic person who always wants to see the best in people, this struck me deeply. Because yes, why would Emma be open with strangers when she has no clue as to their intentions? A healthy portion of hesitance is useful.

10. Sleep has always involved a love/hate relationship.

Emma hates falling asleep. She feels infinitely better after a nap, but that doesn’t outweigh the perceived disadvantages of closing her eyes when life is still happening all around her.

It wasn’t until I witnessed her struggle that I realized I have much the same issue: I love how a good night’s sleep makes me feel, but I hate how unproductive I’m being…

Which is a vestige of my perfectionist streak and a by-product of the neo-liberal paradigm that seems to rule my corner of the world (Western Europe).

But rather than keep beating myself up over this, Emma has shown me that this dichotomy is inherent to human nature: We all want to be present for life. Sleep robs us of this, yet without sleep, we would not be able to be present in the first place.

What an awesome mic drop, Emma.

11. Your body is a miracle.

As someone recovering from an eating disorder and severe body hatred, seeing Emma rejoice in her body and its abilities have been genuinely therapeutic.

She’s fascinated by faces, loves to play with her feet, squirms and rolls around like a bendy pretzel before it hits the oven… and enjoys her physical presence.

Playing with her has given me a new chance to connect with my own body and what it’s capable of. Emma’s enjoyment is contagious — and I can’t wait for what other dimensions she will reveal to me about my body.

Final thoughts

The first few months of Emma’s life have already blown my mind. To think that only a year ago, she was barely more than a thought in her parents’ head…

And while witnessing her grow from fetus to baby has shown me that I am not made to be a parent, I wouldn’t trade being her Tonke for anything in this world.

I can’t wait to see what she will teach me next.

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