New Year, Still a Giant Baby!
How do you change your bad habits? By being very good to your needy, impossible baby self in spite of the hard work involved.
Fresh Air Philosophy (1969) by Dorothea Tanning
My first and most important resolution every year is to resist the urge to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The baby is me, the bathwater is all of my bad habits. Because even when I try to do battle with my worst habits — I have so many! — I still need to make some room for my extra-large adult baby self to be who she is without shame.
For years, my resolutions were just another way of rejecting everything I was, in order to become a whole new person. Naturally they failed because they weren’t realistic. But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was that every day I didn’t magically transform into something other than a needy, impatient baby was a failure. So I navigated my entire life through a fog of failure that made me feel faintly depressed, anxious, and afraid of reckoning with my true feelings and desires. I didn’t want to show myself and I didn’t want to get to know other people because their aptitude for daily life made me feel outmatched and broken. And when I did succeed at something — writing a book, doing something nice for my friends, being a loving spouse — I had trouble feeling proud of myself for it, because my guiding narrative was that I was a giant humiliating fuck up.
You wouldn’t know that I felt like a fuck up if you met me back then. I don’t think I admitted it to myself most of the time. But “You’re fucking up again, like you always do” was the emotional groundwater of my daily existence.
So before we start the process of figuring out our goals for the year – which I think will be good for all of us! – I want to remind everyone that the overarching goal of every year and every month and every week and every minute you’re alive is to love and accept the enormous baby you are.
You have to love your big baby, because your big baby knows what joy is. Your big baby cries without hesitation and stomps her feet when she wants something. Your big baby hurls herself at anything and everything worthwhile, exciting, loving, magical, and yes, real. We think of babies as impulsive and impossible, and the truth is that when you give yourself the right to be exactly who you are and want exactly what you want, you will have to grapple with more impulsivity, higher expectations, more longing, more recognition of your continuing need for love and deep connection.
But without the baby, you will have no drive, no joy, no pleasure, no connection. You will slog along in a state of neurotic self-abnegation and drudgery. Your big baby self attunes you to what you value and aligns you with your highest ideals. Your big baby self recognizes the possibilities in every day, and in every person. Your big baby self is EXUBERANT.
I mean, have you ever met a baby? They have an almost supernatural wisdom about them. Unfortunately this quality evaporates a little once they start running around the house and breaking shit. But many babies start out perfectly attuned to others and the world around them. They are honest and direct. They are pleased by the smallest, weirdest things. They smile at strangers and laugh at dogs and screech at the top of their lungs just for fun.
That’s the spirit you want to cultivate as you sit down to write your New Year’s resolutions this week. You want to remember that the things your giant baby wants are actually reasonable and understandable and pure. Your baby wants to have fun and thrive and enjoy this day. Your baby wants to be fed healthy food, to feel safe, to feel loved.
My belief is that the more protective and kind you are to your baby, the better your life gets. In an age of self-indulgence and psychobabble that probably sounds hopelessly counterintuitive. But the worst habits most of us have are ways of escaping or avoiding the hard work of taking care of ourselves.
It can be inconvenient to understand and acknowledge your big baby, because your big baby wants A LOT. The difference between the way you live and the way your big baby wants to live might be huge. That’s hard to tolerate. I mean, look, just sitting down to think about your needs and desires in a serious way is difficult. Just saying “What do I want from my life, as a mortal human who will die some day?” is frightening.
So let’s be good to our big babies by starting not with all of the dirty bathwater bad habits we need to throw out, but with the things we did well in 2023 — even if we were sometimes a little messy and babyish about it. What did you get right? What did you learn? How did you grow? What do you feel proud of doing? What mistakes were made in pursuit of something honorable and real? What calamities occurred out of pure intentions?
Today, make a list of things you did in 2023 that you feel good about, or that brought you into a new state of understanding or accepting yourself or the world around you, or that strengthened your connection to people, places, and things that you love. Heartbreak can be something you feel good about. Sadness and grief can be something to treasure, when it marks a loss or struggle that’s meaningful to you. Write it all down and share some of your list in the comments below. Tomorrow, we’ll list our goals for 2024. Onerous and daunting!
But today, we celebrate our big babies by savoring our gains, smiling at strangers, laughing at nothing, and screeching at the top of our lungs just for fun. This year we’re going to be more open and more exuberant, even when it embarrasses us. We’re going to show up for the scary adventure of being alive, with all of our senses and all of our hearts. Our babies already know how to do this. We just have to follow their lead.
Happy new year and thank you for being here! Feel free to share this post with a friend.