There are moments in books and movies when a small gesture reveals a profound insight about a character. They might decide to go barefoot, or refuse to board a bus, or turn their face upward to taste the rain. After consuming enough literature and films, we learn that these moments matter and that the author is helping to reveal a character’s deepest self with these gestures. Recently, I was reminded that those moments aren’t limited to fiction, nor to adults. My 1-year old daughter Ayla taught me that lesson last week when I found her asleep in the bathtub. Let me explain.
Since Ayla is now sleeping in her own (door-less) room, she is prone to wake up in the wee hours and wander around the apartment or into my bed. Last week, Ayla woke up and stumbled into the bathroom. I’m not sure exactly what transpired but my best guess is that she accidentally closed the bathroom door and couldn’t reach the handle. She was stuck.
While most babies would scream out in her situation—knowing that their light-sleeping parents would quickly come to the rescue—Ayla stayed put. She didn’t cry or scream out. Instead, she navigated around the bathroom by the dim glow of the night-light. She gathered a few towels. She found a pair of my leggings. Then she got into the tub and somehow fashioned a small bed out of them. Finally, she put herself to sleep.
She had just turned one—only a few days before this happened.
The next morning, unable to get out of her tiny bed, she called out to me and I came running into her room. When I didn’t find her there, my heart started pounding, loud and fierce. Then I checked the bathroom and found her standing up in the bathtub. It took a second to register the salient details of the scene: Her towel-and-legging bed, the scratch on her nose (from the faucet?), her well-rested countenance. There wasn’t a trace of injury—no bruises or bleeding.
I quickly grabbed Ayla and pulled her close. I scanned her face and body to make sure she wasn’t hurt. Within seconds she was cooing and laughing—she was her usual, happy self.
Over the next 24 hours, the significance of Ayla’s bathtub adventure unraveled itself from the knot of worry that had formed in my belly. I had to remind myself that I didn’t sleep through Ayla’s cries—we are too deeply connected for that to happen. The truth of the matter was that Ayla didn’t call out for me. Her instinct told her not to panic. Her gut reaction was to convert a less-than-ideal situation into something agreeable. She was creative. She improvised. She relied on her body and her intuition to guide her to safety. A 1-year old infant did all of this in the middle of the night.
In the days since I found Ayla in the bathtub, I keep the bathroom door locked at night. But more importantly, I see Ayla in a different light. She is no longer just a baby in my eyes. I see her as a human being with a formidable character. She is a tremendous problem solver. She has the even-handedness of a surgeon. She is a wise soul.
Last week, I learned that I admire and respect my tiny daughter. I’m not sure that I, even today, would have handled a similar situation with such grace. But perhaps the biggest revelation was that it was time to reassess my relationship with Ayla. I have evolved so much as a person as a result of giving birth and becoming a mother. But it’s not just the situation of parenthood that is spurring my growth. I’m finally ready to look into my daughter’s eyes and see her as more than my child, but also as my teacher.
And if this is what she can teach me at the one-year mark, I can’t begin to imagine what she’ll teach me in my lifetime.
To read more from Taz, please visit her blog Labor of Love.
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