On Saying Great Job to Small Children, Death, and Wonder.
been so much nearby death this January, in the small and large world I live in,
heaping close-by chaos on top of faraway chaos, and though I am not sure what
it all means (except that we live in a brutal universe), I do know it has made
me feel things, made me feel soft and fearful and lucky and sad.
I have also
been reading and hearing about that parenting thing where we aren’t supposed to
say great job to our kids, that when we do this – when we commend them too
much, say things like that pooping you
just did on the toilet? that was AMAZING or, oh my god, you are INCREDIBLE! you just put your sock on (your hand)
or GREAT JOB NOT CROSSING THE STREET
BECAUSE I AM HOLDING YOUR ENTIRE BODY BACK WITH ALL THE STRENGTH I HAVE –
we wrong them. I get it, I get how that could create strange standards for
achievement or compel them to do things only for our approval. When
I shout excitedly out loud about some small thing my son does, am I
making it less likely for him to attend an Ivy League school (because he will
equate doing well with not getting hit by cars instead of mastering pre-calc)?
Am I narrowing his focus on only those activities that will win him praise from
me (dressing himself, albeit incorrectly; reciting a couple pages of a book
from memory; singing the chorus to Coolio’s Fantastic
Voyage) and, thus, destroying his autonomy?
[Click the date below to keep reading…]
Oh god. I
don’t know. Maybe? Do I even care where he goes to college? (I do not.)
thing is, when I think about these people who are not here anymore, who got
wrestled off earth cruelly by cruel diseases, and when I squint anxiously at
headlines in my inbox about dozens of people who have been killed, in minutes,
in my inbox, I do not want to be matter of fact with my son. I don’t want to be
resilient in a hard sort of way, the kind of way that is supposed to
hypothetically drive him to pursue many advanced degrees or start a
revolutionary non-profit. I hope he does these things, if he wants to, they’re
great things to do, but I AM in awe of him when he sings, “Come along and ride
on a fantastic, slide, slide, slippity slide,” (even if he’s actually saying
Sly and not slide).
What I’m trying to say is, these
compliments, freakish outbursts, WHATEVER, I hope they convey to my kid that I
do not think these small things he is doing are so small. Or rather that these
small things are worth our attention, our joy, our embarrassing stupid joy.
These small things are everything. They are everything to me at least,
especially when I step back and cringe in terror at the big picture in which I
am a tiny fleck.
But maybe I need to be explaining it
to him more clearly? Maybe I need to say, listen,
I know I sound insane right now, right after I have body checked you from
ignoring the don’t walk symbol, but I am just so fucking happy that you are
FINALLY getting it, the not walking thing, and saying don’t walk, don’t walk, as though I’m the one who needs to be told.
Oh god, that is cute. You are so cute for
trying to help me in a moment like this. And you should know that! I’m so
fucking excited you aren’t going to get hit by oncoming traffic right now and
I’ll tell you why! It’s because I want you to be with me on the other side of
the street. When we get to the other side of the street and you’re still there,
I don’t want to rush us home and forget what the whole point of being alive is.
I want to appreciate that we made it. We made it! Thanks to me remembering to
be cautious and you sort of listening, we are here together, running up to
mailboxes and speaking to them and looking desperately for dogs to shout at and
then cower from and then talk about for blocks and blocks, long after the dogs
have gone. I wanted a kid and now I have one, you, you are that kid, and you
should know, although it is weird and embarrassing for me to admit this in a
public place on the internet, that for all the times you irk the shit out of me
(mainly by going boneless), I’m so wowed by your humanity, like the fact that
you are a human person who learns things and is curious about things and wants
me with you to experience all that stuff. I’m not saying you’re special,
although of course I think you are, I’m saying that to be a person, as you are,
as I am, is a breathtaking thing. It just is. We are alive. We have spectacular
brains and intuitive bodies and witnessing you grow up from moment to moment to
moment is nuts. It blows me away. I think you’re doing a great job. You’re
doing a fucking great job.
Yeah, I probably can’t say this all to
him, not before he asks to read Hop on
Pop for the fucking forty-fifth time. But maybe some afternoon ten years from now, he’ll be staring at a blade of grass between his fingers and I’ll say, arms crossed, long hair gray (but, like, in a stunning way), “Dude, you know you have to do your homework, right?” and he’ll look up at me, smug and chill (like every almost-teenager), and say, “Mom. We are alive. It just is,” and I’ll roll my eyes, not at him, but at this blog post I wrote long ago. And things will be as they should.