How about adopting a child's perspective for the new year?

Posted: Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Rebecca Braun

The day after her third birthday my daughter Rosie announced that she was done with her crib - the beautiful hand-made baby-jail without which she had been, until that day, unable to sleep.

"I want to sleep in my bed," she stated, motioning to three pieces of metal stacked against the wall. They'd been there for months as sort of a subliminal reminder, but any time we casually suggested putting the bed together she'd balked. Now she helped me ("helped" me, I should say) put together the frame and set the mattress, smoothing the blankets with great care.

If Rosie loved her crib, she was completely enamored of diapers. We tried peer pressure, bribery, reverse psychology and nonchalance. She was tenacious. It's not that she had accidents - instead, when we withheld diapers she'd hold it so long we'd start to worry.

So I figured it was only indulging a little fantasy when I suggested a few times in the weeks before her birthday that when she was three years old she wouldn't need diapers anymore. When I'd sigh and ask when she'd give them up, she'd parrot back, "when I'm three."

I doubted it would work. What could time mean to a child who says any event in recent memory happened "last night"? What does "birthday" mean to a being who has no understanding of how she came to be?

But a month into being three, Rosie is so comfortable with her bed and so adept at the toilet I'm already thinking about what I can pull off when she turns four: "Four-year-olds don't whine. And they do the dishes and give their mommies back rubs every day."

But what about me? My birthday is just another occasion for gluttony and self-indulgence. If expectations create reality, what is stopping me from acquiring new capabilities in an overnight remaking?

Is it just that there is no mommy figure telling me that when I'm 34, I'll give up my chocolate dependence and my late-night e-mail habit? That next year I'll be able to repair broken toasters or speak Thai or do backwards cross-overs on the ice?

Maybe she no longer tells me these things because I wouldn't believe them anyway. As empirical evidence crowds out imagination, adulthood erodes our sense of possibility.

There's also some math to it. Going from 2 to 3, your age increases by 50 percent. In some way, even a 2-year-old gets it: A year is half her life. In the past year, Rosie's acquired near-fluency in a new language, made new friends, and at least doubled her strength and agility. It's a big unit of time she's scaling when she turns 3. From 33 to 34, your age increases by 3 percent. What's another year but a few more complaints about gray hairs and extra fat cells?

I'm not lamenting the loss of my youth. I don't miss having to ask my parents for rides and movie money, getting humiliated at kickball or enduring the torrid social dynamics of eighth grade. What I do miss is that complete faith in another person's optimistic appraisal of my capacity, the conviction that with my next birthday I will be bigger and braver and stronger.

True to my adult instinct to protect myself from failure, I made no resolutions for the new year. But I've been thinking about something Rosie said to me the other day in the car: "When you get little, I'll drive you." (Fair is fair, I hated my mom's driving, too.)

If no one's telling me how big and strong I'm getting, maybe I should strive to be littler - or, at least, to cultivate a bit of that little-person faith that anything is possible.

• Rebecca Braun is co-editor of the Alaska Budget Report and lives in Juneau.

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