We all assume that with age, comes bountiful knowledge, a more enlightened perspective of the world, or great success. In most cases, this is true. In some cases, it is not. I’ve often noticed how age tends to complicate things, and how the simplicity of youth melts away into a pool of newfound responsibilities. Suddenly, I’m supposed to be lining up perspective jobs, getting my funds in order, and thinking about what the hell I want to do with my life. It makes me wonder: to what extent do we sacrifice the joy of naivety for the confines of responsibility? It’s an inevitable shift. When you turn a certain age, it is expected that you have your shit together.

As is the case with many, with the increase of responsibility, comes the increase of stress. Closely woven into this stress is the inability to see life for what it is, and rather, what it’s supposed to be. I hope one day to be successful in whatever field I pursue, I hope to foster relationships with new colleagues, maintain old relationships, and eventually bring life into the world. Then I take a step back, realize I’m only twenty years old, and wonder why I’m focusing on giving birth right now, rather than my plans for next weekend. While it’s probably not wise to float through life in a bubble of bliss without a plan, without responsibilities, or considering the possibility of (f)unemployment, it’s also not wise to always be concerning yourself with the daunting thoughts of your future.

My older sister gave birth to a little bundle of sunshine on March 10, 2015. With a vocabulary limited to words such as Mama, Dada, up-up, and Niney (my family nickname,) I can proudly state that my 15 month old nephew has taught me a multitude of lessons. At 15 months, Henry has the same capability of basic emotions as the rest of us do: he laughs, he cries, he smirks, and you can definitely tell when he’s pissed off. If something is funny: he laughs. If something is funny: he cries. He embodies the simplistic naivety of youth, something that we shed as we grow. Thus I learn my first lesson: it’s okay to express how you’re feeling. It’s okay to cry, to get mad, and to laugh. Often we live guarded, and emotions make us seem inferior, weak, or unprofessional. While I wouldn’t recommend breaking down into hysterical tears at your office, it’s important to express how you feel. When you surround yourself with the right people, then expressing your emotions should be as easy as crying over spilt milk.

Just this past week, Henry-Bean started cruising around with a crawl-walk hybrid. He’s still getting the hang of the whole standing-on-his-own-two-feet thing, but he understands that in order to walk on his own, sometimes he has to fall down (adorably) on his bum. Alas folks, the second lesson. There is nothing more fascinating, nerve-wracking, and exciting than learning a new skill. Sometimes it comes to you easily, and following that first step, you’re cruising across the room. Often times, it takes many falls, bumped heads, and bruises before you’re proficient. It’s something you take day-by-day, week-by-week. Some start early, and others take their time. Babies can walk anywhere between nine and sixteen months. There is no need to concern yourself with how you rank up next to your companions: just finding the courage to take the first step brings you one day closer to meeting that goal.

When he’s not cruising around causing trouble, Henry will opt to play with his many toys (first grandchild privileges.) However, with so many toys to play with, he never proves selfish. With tiny fingers wrapped around a wooden block, he’ll frequently grin and place it in your palm. It is no question that the kid will pass kindergarten with flying colors. Nevertheless, it is in this action that Henry teaches me a final lesson: happiness is often shared. While it is very much possible to wrap yourself up in others’ happiness, thus rejecting your own, I can’t help but counter this. What good is happiness if you have no one to share it with? Just as Henry finds joy in sharing his blocks, so too do I find joy in sharing my moments, experiences, and memories with others. In a seamless allegory for real life, Henry’s ability to thoughtlessly invite others to share in his block-building experience paints the picture of an ideal world.

While at some point it is crucial to get our lives in order, it is likewise crucial to maintain a fun-filled impression of the world. My 15 month-old nephew has taught me lifelong lessons that I will continue to abide by for the years to come. It is the ability to express yourself, to take the first step, and to share your happiness with others that helps to maintain the balance between what life is supposed to be and what life can be. Life is supposed to be orderly, and we’re supposed to have it together. Yet life can be fun, carefree, and inspiring as well. A strong combination of the two is what I’m aiming for. But don’t listen to me- I’m a 20 year old taking advice from a 15 month-old.