03/19/2013 01:36 pm ET Updated May 19, 2013

Right on Time to Break the Cycle

At any random moment, my 16-month-old daughter is liable to throw her head back, laugh heartily at the sky, and run forward blindly with arms back and chest out until she collapses to the ground in a fit of laughter.

It's one of the most beautiful things I've ever witnessed. And it happens (seemingly) unprovoked.

I've been thinking a lot about "Lettin' It Shine" lately, chewing on what I think that phrase actually means. (Hint: I don't think it is limited to our positive, "shiny" emotions.)

One thing that is very clear to me from watching my kids is that "Lettin' It Shine" is not something we need to learn. It's something we are born knowing. It's something that we (tragically) un-learn over time.

To put it more confusingly, in order to truly Let It Shine, we need to un-learn our un-learning. [That's all!]

But how is it that we stop shining in the first place? And why?

***[Cut to scene 2.]***

Preschool started five minutes ago and I don't even have the kids in the car yet. I'm carrying my son's bagel between my teeth, my toddler on one arm, and two overflowing bags and two water bottles in the other arm. While attempting to open the car door using two fingers and a knee, I keep dodging my daughter's attempts to grab the bagel by repeatedly flicking my head to the side.

My back is twitching again.

I stayed up later than I should have again last night, so I am (predictably) groggy this morning. I'm not on my A-game.

I drop the bags and water bottles on the ground, open the door, put the bagel on the seat, and while I'm trying to wrestle my daughter into her car seat, I turn to see that my son is sauntering around our front yard with a long stick held to his nose, pretending to be an elephant. I remind him (for the UMPteenth time) that we are late: leave the stick here and get-in-the-car.

I wrestle a little more with wrestler-baby then glance at my son again.

"MmmmmMMMMMMMMMMPH!!!" he trumpets. His head is hanging low, his weight sauntering from side to side, his feet plodding slowly...exactly like an elephant.

"Listen to me," I say. I am firm and my voice is low and slow: my best intimindating mom voice. "I am taking that stick and you are getting in the car right now."

I take the stick.

"But I want to put it in the closet," he yells. ["Garage," he means. He's been keeping that stick in there every night. It's thin, long, and crooked in several places so as to take up maximum garage space (or, maybe, to make it more like an elephant trunk.)]

"We are late!" I say. "The stick is safe in the driveway! We can leave it hear and play with it later. Now get-in-the-car," I say. (Not quite as low and slow that time.)

Now he is crying. It's not the manipulative, I'm-trying-to-get-my-way cry. It's his genuinely heart-broken and heart-breaking I-am-concerned-about-my-elephant-trunk cry.

And all of a sudden my recent reflections about why we forget how to "Let It Shine" smack me in the face -- as if I had stepped on a rake. What am I doing?

I purse my lips into an "O" and blow: a physical release of my disappointment in myself. Can't I see what's happening?

My son is teaching me how beautiful that long and twisted dead stick is, and all I am thinking about is how much room it has been occupying in my recently-cleaned garage.

He is coaching me on how to enjoy the small things and I am hurrying him up so that we can -- what? -- get to nursery school? Where they don't give a hoot if you are late? Where they sing and color and teach you to enjoy the small things?

My son is showing me how to let it shine and not only am I not taking the lesson in it, I am squashing his light.

Don't get me wrong: kids need discipline and they need to learn to respect their parents. If I make a rule, I need to follow through.

But why make the rule in this case? How did we get here? Do I not know that my son will take his splendid time noticing beauty on his way through the garage every morning?

Why do I not plan time for that into our day? Why must he adjust to my pace, instead of me coming down to his pace more often? Why do I not get myself to bed earlier at night so that I can have the patience to recognize what is and is not important in the morning?

This is how it happens, isn't it? This is how we un-learn how to shine. Our parents are our teachers and if our parents do not take care of themselves and let themselves shine then when we grow to mirror them, our shine is gone, too.

It's time we un-learn the un-learning, Lovers of Light. It's time we break the cycle by rocking our basic happiness fundamentals so that we can model -- for our children, for ourselves, and for our peers -- what it means to glow with an inner light.

This week, I'm committing to a 10:30pm lights-out time. Every night. No excuses. I'm planning time into our morning for a toddler's pace (you should too, regardless of whether you have a toddler) and if we are "late" for something whose start-time doesn't matter, I'm going to relax and find the beauty in it.

When I think I am "late" for an appointment, I might actually be right on time for the elephant parade.