Thursday, January 31, 2013
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
My daughter Hadley started making this declaration almost daily when she was about 3 and half. It didn’t matter if we were driving through a carwash or headed to the playground, she sincerely felt that life could not get any better. Can I order dessert? Best day ever! She did not get her enthusiasm from me. Before she was born, I was a television reporter and a single mom to my son in my former life. In those long days of racing to not be the last one to pick up from daycare, I daydreamed about having a loving husband, a sibling for my son, a better neighborhood to raise my family, the opportunity to be a stay-at-home parent. I got my wishes, every single one of them with a cherry on top. To my dismay, it wasn’t enough.
“This is it?” I asked.
“This is it!” Hadley shouted.
I finished my sentences with a question mark. I wanted my daughter’s exclamation points. So I set out on a journey. Call it a life experiment to be more childlike. I wanted to see the world through her eyes. Through wider, brighter, more childlike eyes. I wanted to learn from my children and at the same time not teach them some of the more useless aspects of adulthood. Holding grudges. Unrealistic expectations. Worry. Guilt. Fear. Those are lessons I picked up along the way that were not worth passing on. Tying your shoes. ABC’s. Making pizza. Those are the things I felt equipped to teach before my little experiment. Brainstorming. Following your dreams. Believing in magic. Being open to new possibilities. Forgiveness. Self love. That is what I wanted to be an expert at sharing.
I broke my Be More Childlike journey down into a different focus every month for one year.
In the first month of studying childlike optimism, I sang optimistic songs like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Oh, What A Beautiful Morning”. The only thing risked was someone telling me that my voice reminded them of scratching on a chalkboard. The reward was huge.
The first time I tried it, my kids didn’t say a word. That night, after an exhausting 11- hour day of tests and football practice, my then 12-year old son, Cole, finally sat down to do his homework and was happily whistling the song I had hummed earlier that morning. The next time I tried it on the way to school, I happened to turn around and catch a glimpse of my daughter quietly waving her hands like a symphony composer in her car seat. A couple of weeks passed with no singing. One morning, I woke up growling like a grumpy bear. Couldn’t find my keys. A/C was broken. We were late. Everything was a problem. My daughter started singing “You Are My Sunshine” to me. I had no idea she knew the words. Not only did she know the words, she knew the good feelings that her singing evoked.
Obviously, humming a happy tune is not a cure-all for all of life’s challenges. But it is a start. It is about trying new things, however silly, to see what works for you. It is about recognizing that everything you do, say and feel is being heard and seen and sung right back to you. I know that the stakes are high. I know I need to nurture myself if I am going to be a nurturing parent. But I am also forgetful. I need reminders. Children are more reliable than setting the calendar alarm on your smart phone if you pay just a little attention.
My daughter loves to draw. But something changed that month. Several times, coloring turned to crying. I watched her try to draw a picture of the beach as a gift for her friend. She hated it. She asked me to draw a unicorn instead. “Nope, not good enough”. She tried coloring a heart by herself. Big crocodile tears came rolling down her cheeks. “It’s not perfect,” she kept whining inconsolably. She never finished the picture. In that moment, I clearly saw my reflection in my daughter’s tear streaked face. Before her irrational meltdown, I thought perfectionists must be almost perfect because they try so hard. I didn’t relate to the label at all because you can’t be a perfectionist and still feel so imperfect.
I strove to get rid of that feeling through the next big thing like a hamster runs on his wheel. At the time of the crayon incident, my stated goals on my Be More Childlike blog were to be a better mom, better friend, better spouse, better sister, better daughter and better writer. That sounds childlike, right? I thought by making a to-do list like living in the present or letting go of expectations, I could achieve “better”. I thought “better” was a destination and the wheel would take me there if only I worked hard enough.
When I was trying to comfort my distraught daughter with her crumpled pile of papers, concern and empathy turned to frustration and a sense of helplessness. It made me wonder if my family feels that way when I am frantically trying to get the house ready for a holiday gathering or anxious about a pending project.
Of all the parenting advice I’ve ever heard, what strikes a chord with me is modeling behavior. Set reasonable expectations. Don’t take yourself or your mistakes too seriously. Learn from them. Try again. I have since replaced the word ”better” with the words “more intentional” on my experiment goals. I added a couple new ones. Know myself and treat myself with the same care I treat my beautiful children.
Monday, January 28, 2013
I can do anything good, better than anyone.
Driving home Saturday night and looking up just as paper lanterns filled the sky above the Vinoy marina. A minute before and the lights would have blended with the twinkling sailboats in the harbor and the Pier in the distance. A minute later, we might have mistaken them for stars. My husband, daughter and I witnessed a scene from the Tangled fairytale solidifying my belief that we live in a magical place.