A beginner’s mind

I’m staring at the blond fuzzy hair that covers his newborn head and trying to take it in. Maybe I can imprint this image in my mind forever. I smell his head (doesn’t everyone tell you to?) and yes, there it is—the smell of a newborn—a mix of soap and sweat and sweetness that should be bottled up and sold as perfume, or at least as a candle at Anthropologie. I’ve been sitting with him like this whenever I can—in between preschool pick-ups and dinnertime, dress up and Magna-Tiles and bathtime. These moments alone with the baby aren’t as frequent when there are two older siblings to care for. As I study him, I notice another similarity between this baby and his older brother, and I am reminded—he will grow up. He will only be new for a while longer.

And just like that, this moment of tranquility turns into anxiety. This is my last baby. Will I long for this stage again? Will I miss cradling his squishy body and listening to his newborn squeaks? Will I even remember what this feels like? Please, time. Stand still. I don’t want these moments to end. I don’t want to forget.

When I was pregnant, I read a book called Mindful Birthing, which teaches mindfulness during pregnancy and labor, but admits that mindfulness is for everyday life. The first chapter introduced beginner’s mind, which is an attitude of seeing things as if they are brand new. It’s putting on fresh eyes in ordinary experiences, bringing curiosity and wonder to whatever we are doing right now. The author states that this moment is the only moment that can truly be known, and it is true—not even one breath is like the one before it, and no experience is exactly like one that is to come.

I’ve been trying to practice beginner’s mind. Yesterday, I resolved to see preschool pick-up as if I had never done it before. I gently pushed away the thought that my three-year-old may refuse to carry her own backpack, as she had been doing, or worse, flop on the floor when asked to put on her coat. This time could be different. I was determined to see the experience with fresh eyes.

Before stepping through the door, I noticed daffodils in a planter (I swear they weren’t there yesterday), each yellow trumpet facing left toward the sun. My daughter spotted me and ran straight into my arms. I held her hand, which was cold, and imagined her climbing on the playground just minutes before. My son raced toward us next with a paper in his hands. I listened with curiosity as he explained his drawings and invented spelling: grapes, a carrot, rice, toast, a hot dog. A healthy plate of food. Everyone carried their own backpack. Everyone put on their coat. We drove home, and I decided to turn on a song by the Lumineers. I watched in the rearview mirror as my daughter’s eyes lit up: “Wow, Mom, what is this?” She had never heard the song before.

I know it would be silly to expect each experience with my children to go this smoothly (sometimes those backpacks are just too heavy to hold). But maybe it is this expectation—this belief that the past shapes what will come next—that is silly. What if we experienced life like we were hearing a song for the first time? I think we would notice details we would otherwise miss, like daffodils, or the temperature of a loved one’s hand. Maybe we would say more often, “Wow, what is this?”

Instead of dwelling on the “lasts” of this stage with my newborn, I can practice beginner’s mind. I can wonder what he’s thinking as his deep blue eyes watch me, and notice each time he stretches his arms straight into the air after he is unswaddled. I can worry less about him growing up. After all, his brother and sister have shown me that there are wonderful moments at every stage. There are many opportunities, each day, to experience things as if they were brand new.

Rachel Trudelle is a reading teacher and mother of three who longs for a minivan to make preschool pick-ups that much easier. She always scores exactly in the middle on introvert/extrovert quizzes and wishes she were a morning person (she’s a night owl, through and through). Rachel loves a good latte and muffin, the ocean, and any opportunity to dream and create.

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