There is something about kneeling down and looking into a child’s eyes that aligns us with their perspective. Suddenly their quivering chin, the tears on their flushed cheeks over some trivial matter have a new and relatable purpose. The matter is no longer trivial. Our compassion grows.
Raising children is a tough business. Not because humans are somehow flawed until reaching adulthood, but because the world is demanding and we as parents feel a great burden in both navigating a demanding world and wanting our children to be able to navigate that same demanding world. One has to wonder, should we put that pressure on them? On one side we say yes because God forbid they fall through society’s cracks and we are left helpless to defend them as adults. On the other hand we don’t want to harden them as the world is hard. We don’t want them becoming liquid cement and turning the world into a concrete jungle with no spaces left to breathe, to stretch one’s wings and fly.
My daughter is often stubborn. I have to remind myself to look closely at her, to kneel down and look into her eyes at eye level. It keeps me from “flying off the handle” so to speak. It keeps me grounded. I can see my eyes in her eyes. I can see my own stubborn nature. I can see her father’s mischievous grin. I am reminded of a time when I questioned everything, when I challenged the answers my parents would give me. Alice is more stubborn than I ever was and as difficult as she can be, I relish that streak of stubbornness because I am less afraid of stifling her spirit. If anything unjust comes her way it brings out the fight in her and I love to see it. I know my daughter will never become liquid cement.
Sometimes as parents we just want things to be easy. We want the elements of life to add up in neat little boxes. We want our kids to eat this, wear this, do it this way. Because shouldn’t life be easy every now and then? Don’t we deserve a break ONCE IN A WHILE?! That is usually when our kids decide Oh no. Hell no. You’re not boxing me in and checking me off like that and good luck trying! This morning was one of those mornings. I just wanted everything to go smoothly. I wanted to drink coffee. I wanted my muse to sit blithely on my shoulder telling me exactly what to write. I wanted Alice to wear her unicorn T-shirt. Was I being rational? No. I just wanted those things because I wanted them. Because I deserved them damnit! But did I really deserve them? What does that even mean?? What situation could I pluck from life and say this should be mine? As though there was a list made when I was born of “life situations Kimkoa deserves.” No that list doesn’t exist and no, none of those things were going to happen. I got to drink tea. I struggled through yet another morning of writing and re-writing. Alice wanted and wore her grey sweater, not her unicorn T-shirt. Why? Because the sweater is soft. I tried reasoning with her. The unicorn T-shirt is soft too. No, she wanted the grey sweater. I had in my mind the last time she wore her ballerina skirt and pink tights and how happy she was in that sparkly unicorn T-shirt. I wanted to recreate the outfit. It went something like this:
“Just this one time, please be reasonable! Ali, you love your unicorn T-shirt!”
“No, I want soft clothes! That’s not soft! I want my DADDY!”
“FINE! No Easter candy after school if you won’t get dressed!”
“Here, Alice touch the T-shirt see? It’s soft and you wore it last time. You need to listen and follow directions. ”
“I want my GREY SWEATER!”
I stopped of course and realized how I was the unreasonable one and how she was curled up in a ball kicking her clothes away over something so small, so ridiculously unimportant. I had to be the one to let go, which was so hard to do because I wanted her to look a certain way, act a certain way, be a certain way and she could feel it. She could feel that pressure coming down on her beautiful, sleepy little head and responded exactly the way I would have at her age. With a resounding NO WAY.
As adults standing up for ourselves is just as difficult. The world says look a certain way, act a certain way, be a certain way and we feel that immense pressure coming down on us terrifically. Once we are adults there is no one to stand as intermediary for us the way our parents did when we were younger. We are left to fend for ourselves and the world can indeed feel heartless at times. That’s why we have to let our kids stand up for themselves sometimes when they are little so they know how to do it when they are older. So they can believe in themselves and in their abilities. It takes real guts to stand up to such a force when you are a child and it takes guts as an adult to not just let our children spread their wings but to spread our own. We have to dig deep and remember our childhood selves who were strong enough to shout no at our moms and the unicorn T-shirt because we want that soft grey sweater and we damn well deserve it. It takes guts to be the ones we believe in, the ones worth looking up to, the ones we hope our children will become one day.