By Tracy G. Cassels
It was spring – April or May – and I was out for a walk with my daughter to the grocery store. We passed by a house when I noticed it. My daughter noticed too and wanted to touch. Between her need and my amazement, I had to stop. “It” was the budding of these beautiful bright, green, baby leaves on the many shrubs that adorn the blocks I travel on to the market or bus every single day. Though I had lived in the neighbourhood for years before the birth of my daughter, and walked these streets more times than I can count, it wasn’t until this past spring—my first with my daughter—that I finally noticed how beautiful things were in the spring. It may seem weird, odd, or even crazy to be stopped short by fresh, new, green leaves, but prior to the birth of my daughter I was “that” person on the street. The one so focused on where I was going and running through the myriad things I had to do in my head that I never stopped to smell the real or proverbial roses.
I could try and say that it was the birth of my daughter that resulted in some epiphany about the world that changed me, but it’s simply not true. For the first couple months of her life I was walking a lot as it was summer and nice out, but I still never focused on anything around me. I certainly focused on her, but who doesn’t when they’ve got a wonderfully fresh and new baby who smells wonderful and makes your heart expand every time you catch a glimpse? No, it took time for this transformation to take place. Not that her birth itself didn’t change me at all; once she was born, one part of me that died more quickly than I ever could have imagined was the part that had to always be on the go and doing something. My husband admits that he worried about how I’d handle being at home with a baby when I was so used to maximizing my time and being über-efficient to get the million things I’d signed on to do, done. Her birth changed that because my priorities changed. But it still didn’t get me to stop and look around; I was as introverted and focused as ever, just now it was on my daughter. No, what changed me so profoundly was babywearing.
You may say, “But wait! Didn’t you just say walking around at the start didn’t change anything? And you were babywearing then, weren’t you?” Why yes I was, but at that point, my daughter wasn’t actively learning too much about the world around her as she was mostly sleeping (though certainly passively learning). It wasn’t until my daughter started being awake for longer periods and walking didn’t put her to sleep because then she wanted to touch and see everything. Let me digress for a moment… one of my favourite books of all time is The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder (author of Sophie’s World – small fun fact: Sophie’s World was written for the protagonist in The Solitaire Mystery – personally I find that fabulous). If you’ve read this book, you may recollect that in it is the discussion of how most adults have lost that initial perspective on the world and that we should try to look at the world as if from a baby’s set of eyes, to see everything anew, and then we can take in the wonder of the world around us. Well, when I read the book the first time, I tried so hard to do it, but failed. Yes, the leaves looked cool on the tree, but really? My mind would just wander to something else. After all, they were leaves. For me, it took an actual baby looking at the world with such awe to make me truly look deeply at what was around me and to be taken aback by it all.
When my daughter got old enough to start interacting with the world around her, having her strapped me meant I had to take interest too. As I said, she wanted to stop and touch everything. And I let her (within reason, of course). After all, isn’t that the best possible way to learn about your environment? I remember her fascination with leaves was one of the first things to hit her. She couldn’t see enough of them, touch enough of them, or just be near them enough. Walking down the block, she would first point to the closest shrub or tree (if the leaves were low enough) and her eyes would get wider as we got closer. A smile would spread across her face as she approached the leaves and would peak as she reached out and touched a leaf. Then another, then another. There were periods of time where the only thing keeping her happy when I took her away from one plant was the promise (and sight) of another up ahead. At a certain point, I had to take notice. I can’t imagine just sitting around twiddling my thumbs or staring off elsewhere or looking at a phone when I had this amazing little baby learning about the world with her bright eyes and seemingly endless curiosity. I wanted to be there with her as she learned about the world. So I started looking at the leaves too. And I guess you could say they kinda grew on me (no pun intended). That fresh look at this amazing world finally hit me—while I had tried earlier to do it, I had tried from a cognitive point of view, but doing it with my daughter made it emotional and real in a way trying to follow instructions never could be.
So there I was, about ten months later, walking down the street just amazed at the beauty that comes with any new life. And as my daughter didn’t stop her love of looking around with leaves, I’ve learned to appreciate a whole lot more too. For instance, we went walking one morning when she was about 13 months old and we ended up on a road being dug up to replace the pipes. Construction workers, diggers, bulldozers, pipes – they were all there. She wanted to stop to look, and as she was on me, she could make that very clear. So we stopped and watched. At first, I admit I got a little impatient and tried walking away after about ten minutes. Well, she had none of that so we went back and watched. For forty-five minutes. By the end, even I had to admit that it was pretty freaking cool; all the steps taken and the coordination between all the different people just to get one pipe down in the ground was amazing. And the machines we’ve designed to help us? Wow. It’s genius. I actually enjoyed it enough that I voluntarily took her back for another walk to the same spot the next day and we spent another half hour watching it all. Now that my daughter walks, we go for strolls in the neighbourhood and look at the fallen leaves, or rocks that go around one house on the corner like a moat. It’s some of the slowest walking on the face of the earth, but who cares? I’m rediscovering the world and the wonderful, strange, dirty, and pretty things in it as my daughter discovers them for the first time.
Would I have learned to stop and look at the leaves if I had used a stroller? I don’t think so. That’s not to say other parents wouldn’t be as similarly affected using a stroller, but I wouldn’t. The stroller creates a separation between you and babe that makes it that much harder to read what they’re trying to tell you. Not impossible, but harder, and for someone who was so focused and shut out the rest of the world, I don’t think I would have picked up on all those cues. Having my daughter right on me and in my face meant that even I missed a visual cue, she was close enough to get my attention when she wanted it. Furthermore, having her that close makes that call for attention even harder to ignore—that’s just a simply psychological fact. So while many articles and sites (even here) talk about the practical benefits of babywearing, I want to add my own unintended consequence: it changed who I am. Luckily for me, it was all for the better.
Did babywearing change you? Outside of all the practical benefits, did you find something that really seemed to just affect you?