Toddlers and the Art of Surrender


One of the biggest sort of “spiritual” concepts is about being able to gracefully surrender and just let go, understanding that God/the Creator/the Universe knows more than you do. It’s not the easiest one to practice for many people, myself included. I like to feel like I have control over things, because having control makes me feel safe. It’s pleasantly ironic, therefore, that the one person in the world whose safety I am 100% responsible for is teaching me a few life lessons about surrendering. I think it would make a good subject for a tongue-in-cheek parenting book: “Toddler as Teacher: Learning Life Lessons from Our Little Ones.”

I was driving almost-two year-old Ivan to the park the other day, listening to classical music to help us mellow out.

Ivan was sitting in his car seat in the back. I usually don’t let him eat in the car, but he was very cranky and having a rough day, and he insisted on bringing his little snack container of crackers with him. Rather than put up a fight, I allowed it. I heard the container go shake-shake-shake-shake-shake and the next thing you know, he pried the lid off and ate a few. And then the next thing you know, he shook that container really hard again, and little cheezy snack crackers and cracker crumbs were all over the back seat and the floor of the car. “Uh-Oh!” he chimed from the back.

Next, I heard the telltale sound of velcro pulling apart. He was taking his shoes off. He threw one to the side, and it landed on top of the snack crackers with a loud thunk. “Shoe!”

Then, I heard a resounding clunk, which I knew from experience meant that he’d chucked his water-filled sippy cup over the other side of the car seat. It would be stuck between the door and his car seat now. I’d have to remember to grab it so it didn’t fall out of the car and roll on the ground and out into the street when I opened the door.

In the scope of a ten minute car ride, Ivan managed to wreak a bit of havoc from the confines of his car seat. We arrived at our destination, and I cleaned up the crackers, rescued the sippy cup, and put his shoes back on him. I tried to be cool, but I was annoyed. Why did he have to make such a mess? Why couldn’t he just sit nicely and look out the window, keep the lid on his crackers, drink nicely from his sippy cup, and keep his shoes on like a civilized person?

And then, as I reached into the back seat to get him out of the car, I smelled that telltale “kid” smell I remember from years of babysitting.

I LOVE that kid smell. It’s a good smell. And I realized that these are the good days.

I’d rather have my little Force of Nature wreaking havoc in the back of my car than not. And I like the idea of learning how to let go, to become maybe a little wiser, a little more patient, and a little more easygoing. That was my moment of surrender, right there. He’s not a civilized person. He’s a toddler. He’s not even two yet, and he’s going to do a lot of things his way. My getting annoyed and angry isn’t going to change him. I can teach him how to behave and be a good person, but I can’t control him – and I wouldn’t want to. He’s his own person.

It’s not always easy to surrender, but once you start to get the hang of it, you realize it’s sometimes nicer than resisting. Just surrendering and going with it can actually be liberating and enlightening. Especially if you’re not used to it!