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What I Learned From A Toddler

I want to tell you two brief stories.

Today I was sitting in a coffeeshop working on some writing, and a small boy (I would guess maybe 3 or 4) came up and sat down across from me. He didn't ask, nor did he have any idea who was I was, he just sat down. (For anyone who is nervous, his father was standing nearby, trying to get a shoe onto another child). I looked him and said, "Hi, are you going to sit with me?" He looked back at me confidently and said, "Yes." While his dad continued to fight with the shoe, I chatted with this little man, whose name was Axel. I do not know if that was his actual name or just what he thought his name was, but it doesn't really matter. We talked about standard little kid things like how old he was, what his favorite things were, and so on. After a few minutes, his father collected him and they left.

I frequent coffee shops around the Des Moines area. I find that I am infinitely more productive in coffee shops, probably there are not guitars or PS4's around to distract me like there would be at home. Several weeks ago, I came into a Caribou Coffee and - unintentionally - sat at a table adjacent to a girl. She was very attractive and we exchanged a few brief smiles before I had to leave. When I came back the next day, she was there again. And again the next day. Every day the interactions were the same: little smiles to one another and nothing more. I would leave and tell myself, "Okay, if she's there tomorrow, I am going to talk to her." But of course, I never did.

What is the difference between little Axel and myself?

What does Axel know that I don't? Because Axel would have gone over to that girl's table, sat down, and said, "Hi, I am going to sit with you." Axel, at three or four years old, has more game than most of us. It's okay for you to admit it, reader. This is a safe place. You wish you had the that toddler swagger. I don't think it's all about what Axel knows, but rather what he doesn't know.

Axel doesn't know yet to be embarrassed.

He doesn't know rejection.

He hasn't had his heart broken.

He is unburdened by the perceived structures of being a grown up person.

There was a point when I was like Axel. You were too. There was a point before all of this bull shit we call adulthood when we cared way less, or perhaps we cared more simply. We want to have fun, play, and laugh. We wanted to make new friends and didn't care where we sat because we didn't know about "popular and unpopular" yet. We dreamt of being astronauts, dancers, artists, pilots, and firefighters, and no one told us we couldn't. We were curious, ambitious, and honest like only children can be. And we still had our sense of wonder and amazement.

You used to be like Axel. I did too.

So, what happened to us?


It's pretty simple, really. We "grew up." You probably didn't even notice this happen, I sure didn't. One day I must have realized that people have opinions about me and those opinions matter. I must have somehow acquired a desire to be and act, "more like an adult." I must have realized how difficult it is to became an astronaut. I must have learned words like "realistic" and "practical." I must have determined that talking to pretty girls in coffee shops isn't something people actually do. I must have grown up.

The above video asks an important question: when we do start believing that we've stopped growing? Did you catch the reactions of the people when Idris Elba asks them what they want to be when they grow up? Most of the laughed. One even said what I assume they were all thinking, "I'm quite well grown." It's how many of us would answer the question, I suspect, because we fall into the trap of believing that we have reached that magic point at which we've become the people we will be for the rest of our lives. We've grown up.


I love how the girl in the video says, "So, the dream?" The way she says it and the look in her eye, you can tell it's something she's wanted to be her entire life: a football coach. (Football meaning soccer here, in case you didn't notice everyone was British in the video.) Norene - that's her name - might have dreamt of that since she was a little girl. She might have kept it in her mind through high school and college, while life pushed it slowly further and further out of reach. And at some point, Norene came to terms with the reality that she was not going to be a football coach. But even so, it was in her mind. The dream.

What's your dream? What is keeping you from doing it? Are your answers anything like the people in the video?

"Time. It's taken years to get to where we are now."

"It gets to a certain point in your life when you think: if it hasn't happened, it's never going to happen."

"You kind of lose a little bit of ambition and then you kind of just ride along."

"Unfortunately, real life does kind of get in the way of your dreams, I guess."

"I don't think people have time to dream, bro."

The response that struck me as the most heart-breaking was the one I placed last on the list. Do you know what my go-to answer is when someone asks him how I am? I bet you do, because you probably say it too. Busy. Busy with school, work, training for a race, playing music. Busy. And I don't even have a wife or children in the mix. I mean really, who has time to dream anymore?

I'll tell you something, dear readers, sometimes I feel like I get so caught up doing life that I forget to live it.


Now, I tell you all of that to tell you this, though I suspect my point is pretty evident by now.

That point at which you stop growing, it doesn't exist. You and I are still growing, constantly changing. You are a different person than you were this time last year. So am I. Yes, life can be rather mundane, but there are opportunities for new challenges and amazement all around, if we are looking for them. 

My interaction with Axel today reminded me of some things I think I had lost. And I'm writing this in case you've lost them too. 

Be less serious.

Allow yourself to be totally and completely amazed by the world.

Give love freely, without expecting anything back.

Care more simply.

Rediscover your dreams and chase them.

Oh, and don't be afraid to talk to the pretty girl in the coffeeshop.

- CP