Thursday, April 5, 2012

On the Turning Away

My whole life, my mom has said the same thing to me each time I turn to leave. As I get in the car, walk out the door, hop out of the mini-van, pull out of the driveway, she says, "Be careful!" She said it yesterday - yesterday! - as I, a 34-year-old woman with two children in my backseat, a person who has never been involved in any kind of car accident and pretty much never speeds, backed down her driveway.

She does it, I know, out of love. She doesn't want anything bad to happen to me, as as a mom now myself, I very much get that. I haven't started saying it to my own children, though. I think it sends a message that I would rather not send; that is, the world is a scary and dangerous place, so above all, your number one priority should be being careful. In fact, I've worked very hard in the last few months to send the very opposite message to a pretty anxious little girl. The message I want to send is, embrace this good day, for while bad things are possible, they are not likely, and you will prevail! So I say, "Do your best!" and "Have a great day!" and "Have fun!" as I kiss her good-bye and she turns away to walk into school. I liked my message better.

And then I read this passage in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk this morning:

"One common parental inquiry that seems to be experienced as pressure is "Did you have fun today?" What a demand to make upon a child! Not only did he have to go to the party (school, play, camp, dance) but the expectation is that he should enjoy himself. If he didn't, he has his own disappointment to cope with plus that of his parents. He feels he's let them down by not having a good time."

It stopped me dead in my tracks, for it reminded me immediately of the infamous "Don't Carpe Diem" blog post that went viral among mommy-bloggers and Facebook users everywhere a couple months ago. Here's the gist:

Every time I'm out with my kids -- this seems to happen:
An older woman stops us, puts her hand over her heart and says something like, "Oh, Enjoy every moment. This time goes by so fast."
Everywhere I go, someone is telling me to seize the moment, raise my awareness, be happy, enjoy everysecond, etc, etc, etc.
I know that this message is right and good. But, I have finally allowed myself to admit that it just doesn't work for me. It bugs me. This CARPE DIEM message makes me paranoid and panicky. Especially during this phase of my life - while I'm raising young kids. Being told, in a million different ways to CARPE DIEM makes me worry that if I'm not in a constant state of intense gratitude and ecstasy, I'm doing something wrong.
I think parenting young children (and old ones, I've heard) is a little like climbing Mount Everest. Brave, adventurous souls try it because they've heard there's magic in the climb. They try because they believe that finishing, or even attempting the climb are impressive accomplishments. They try because during the climb, if they allow themselves to pause and lift their eyes and minds from the pain and drudgery, the views are breathtaking. They try because even though it hurts and it's hard, there are moments that make it worth the hard. These moments are so intense and unique that many people who reach the top start planning, almost immediately, to climb again. Even though any climber will tell you that most of the climb is treacherous, exhausting, killer. That they literally cried most of the way up.
And so I think that if there were people stationed, say, every thirty feet along Mount Everest yelling to the climbers -- "ARE YOU ENJOYING YOURSELF!? IF NOT, YOU SHOULD BE! ONE DAY YOU'LL BE SORRY YOU DIDN'T!" TRUST US!! IT'LL BE OVER TOO SOON! CARPE DIEM!" -- those well-meaning, nostalgic cheerleaders might be physically thrown from the mountain.

I realized that I'm not really sending a better message with my flung-from-the-doorway words of wisdom than my mom does. I realized that, after three little old ladies told me in the span of two days in Florida to "enjoy every moment!" I should know better than to expect that every day Annie has at school will be "great!" or that every play date Jemma goes to will be "super-fun!" I realized that I'm acting like the older lady in the grocery store!!

I'm not going to start telling them to be careful. But I am going to stop telling them to (and asking them later if they did) have fun. I think I'll start trying to say, simply, I love you.

1 comment:

  1. HOLY moly, girl. This is big. I ... feel like I need to think about this more.

    I was told to be SUPER positive when kids are having a hard time at school drop off. By saying "Have a great day!" you are showing them that you are confident they are in a good place, with good people. You are sending a message about the environment they are in and you are also wishing a good day for them.

    Does that mean they HAVE to have a great day? Hmmmm. Does it help to rephrase it: "Hope you have a great day!"? I need to think about this one.

    I really, REALLY like your choice. Perhaps "I love you" says it all?