“All things in this world must be seen with youthful, hopeful eyes.”
Henry David Thoreau

Coming from a huge family (my Dad had four siblings, my Mom - five, and I have 17 first cousins, countless second cousins, and a network of pseudo aunts, uncles, grandparents, and in-laws the size of a small army), I’ve always been around kids.  I’ve been lucky enough to watch most of them grow into awesome people, and am consistently amazed by how they simultaneously develop while retaining core pieces of their personality from birth through young adulthood. 

While I love every single one of them for very different reasons, I have one all-time favorite: my niece Madeleine. 

Madeleine’s a kid with a magical mix of confidence, creativity, adventure, and independence; two parts fun-loving child and one part “magic potion and pixie dust” (my sister’s quote).  She took her first steps at eight months and was playing her own rogue version of “hide and go seek” at just over a year. 

She has a wicked and advanced sense of humor and seems to know just how funny she is.  At our family reunion, she lured unsuspecting adults to her level saying that she had a secret to share, and gave each a huge “wet willy” (tongue in ear).  Later that day, unprompted, she started licking family at the lunch table and rank ordered which family members tasted best (even telling my wife Uncle Mike’s “feet are the best part.”).   

She’ll dress herself in ridiculous outfits, take flowers from the vase and eat them, invent elaborate games and role plays, and do impromptu “butt dances” simply to entertain herself and those around her.  Following her random acts of comedy, she’ll find a blank sheet of paper and crayons and draw, calmly play with our dogs, or sit on your lap and nod off to “Wonder Pets”.   

Spending time with her, you can’t help but absorb the happiness she radiates.  She has a real sense of compassion and deep appreciation for life’s simple pleasures, and is a quick witted as any four-year old I’ve encountered.  She’s a wonderful little person with a distinct personality that’s inspirational.    

Below are a few life lessons Madeleine’s taught me.     

  • Let Joy Be Your Resting Position, and Soldier On When It’s Not:  Madeleine’s smile, laugh, and quick wit are a welcome addition to any venue.  I’m wowed by her ability to read the room and appropriately behave while retaining her personality.  She’s super silly when the situation calls for it and quietly attentive when the mood turns somber.  She’s quick to disarm with a warm, genuine smile and has no problem entertaining herself.  She’s not a whiner and she rarely lets negative emotions weigh her down.  When she cries, she cries hard and moves on quickly.  She adds positivity to every interaction and leaves nearly everyone feeling better than before they saw her; traits you have to admire. 
  • Live In the Moment and Do What Makes You Happy– Kids are amazing at this and Madeleine is a great as they come.  If Madeleine wants to play outside she goes and plays outside, if she wants to paint, she paints.  She’s not distracted by her mental “to-do” list or upcoming work deadline, she’s present, engaged, and pouring every ounce of her energy into whatever she’s doing while she’s doing it; completely detached from ego or any semblance of what she “should be” doing or behaving.  Her ability to immerse herself in life’s experience allow her to capitalize on every interaction while deriving as much joy as possible.  
  •  Focus On What Matters, But Don’t Yourself Too Seriously – Madeleine’s not thinking about how silly she looks when she’s dancing to “shake it off” and is not the least bit self-conscious when jumping in and out of a lake stark naked.  She’s not preoccupied with her status, social standing, or how others perceive her, and doesn’t judge others by such standards.  She guided by her fun-loving spirit and innate curiosity, which informs her ever-evolving opinions, perspectives, and world-view.   Her motivation for pursuit of just about everything is pure and intrinsic.  

At four years old, Madeleine obviously doesn’t encounter the same daily pressures, obstacles, or situations of those an adult.  However, in just 4.5 of years on this planet, she’s already managed to become of the happiest people I’ve ever met.  As such – I’m willing to follow her lead...