Keeping It To Myself

October 4, 2010 at 9:00 am 3 comments

Kids can be gross.

They wipe their hands up their noses when snot drips and then continue up their face, leaving a snail trail across their forehead and through their hair. They dip everything in ketchup. They drop a bean from their burrito and then drop to the taqueria floor to pick it up, only they don’t grab the right one, instead slipping a smashed and gritty stranger bean into their mouths. They drink bath water. They eat boogers. Later when they can change their own underwear, they don’t, leaving the same pair on until a grossed-out parent notices. They suck on strands of their hair until it’s stiff. They show their butts. They get ice cream up their noses and it dries to a grey varnish.

This morning when Echo sneezed into the crook of her arm, as she has been taught, but then snaked that still moist arm under my neck for a good snuggle, I began to compile a list of all the gross things kids do. It was long and my face crinkled up in disgust. Our girls do several nasty things a day but I try, try, try to keep a blank, neutral expression. When Xi runs her snotty hand down the length of her brown hair, I casually sidle up and display her slimy lock, explaining what her nose wiping method results in. At night when I am scrubbing seven layers of rainbow-colored crust from Echo’s mouth, cheeks, nose, forehead, and she asks me why, I refrain from saying: Because you’re dirty. Even when it is so astoundingly thick and widespread I do not say: What a filthy girl you are! Not even in a sing-song voice and with a loving twinkle in my eye. Instead I explain that during the night the food and dirt on her face will slough off, creating dirt crumbles in bed that will be uncomfortable to sleep on.

I refrain from saying things about her body and her appearance, not because I don’t care (I do), and not because I am trying to avoid confrontation (I’m not), but for the same reason that I don’t shout: Good job! even when the job she is doing is good, or even fantastic. I am trying to let Echo (and Xi and Bella) maintain her intrinsic appreciation of her own value. I do not want her to look to me for an understanding of whether or not she is good, or whether or not how her jumping (skipping, singing, writing, counting) is good. I want her to feel for herself the pleasure of these activities, and in that way she will continue to want to do these things, continue to enjoy them.

The same can be said for appearance. I certainly do not want my daughter to see herself through my eyes, or through anyone else’s for that matter. I want her to feel herself, not see herself. I can imagine what her little body must feel like – supple, full of energy, perfect in every way – and I want her perception to stay that way. But it’s hard! Not the dirt so much, but sometimes she’s so darn cute and I want to grab her, squeeze her to tiny bits and shout: You are so cute! The other night for the downtown gallery walk, Echo donned a striped blue dress with a petticoat underneath. The shape of the dress was so screamingly pleasing, her eyes so blue because of it, her chubby brown legs just darling jutting out beneath. She twirled and said: What do you think? and I wanted to swoon, I wanted to scream: You’re so beautiful I could eat you up! but instead I calmly said: I like it, do you?

I have heard it would be even better if young children did not have access to a mirror for the first several years. And that makes sense. I know how distracting it can be to wonder if I look alright, how hard it is, when the image in the mirror is less than pleasing, to simply go through my day. How sunken I can feel. After Echo slid her snotty arm under my sleepy neck and then coughed, accidentally into my face, she sighed with content, rolled over to her Papa and said: Papa, I love you. I will never hate you. Never never hate you.

And that’s the point of parenting, isn’t it? At least one of them. Not to prevent them from hating us, although that would be sugar on top, but to prevent them from hating themselves. If concealing my ews helps that to happen, I’ll do it. No matter how much snot is involved.

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Entry filed under: parenting principles. Tags: , , , .

Bicycle Where We Are

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. mom  |  October 4, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Fantastic!

    Reply
  • 2. mom  |  October 4, 2010 at 11:03 am

    I mean good job!

    Reply
  • 3. Myers  |  October 5, 2010 at 11:17 am

    Wow … I have been pondering these words:”I certainly do not want my daughter to see herself through my eyes, or through anyone else’s for that matter. I want her to feel herself, not see herself.” for the past 15 minutes. I will, I imagine, be pondering them for the rest of the day or week. YES … I want my baby son to be seen BY me, but I never want him to see himself through my eyes … I want him to be in touch with himself, not outside of himself, looking at himself through my vision of him, reaching-reaching-reaching to discover “Am I OK?” by looking through my eyes instead of evaluating and answering that question for himself, on his own.

    I remember when my therapist told me, “Your mother never really SAW you,” and that rang true for me. She didn’t see me, and yet at the same time she made it so that her vision of me was really the only acceptable one. Most of the time I was looking through her eyes to see if I was okay/good enough, or to figure out what I needed to do, per her, to BE okay/good enough.

    Coming from that, I’m focused on NOT doing that to my little son. So often I will actually tell him, “I see you; I see you rolling that ball; I see you climbing those stairs!” but I don’t evaluate him and I don’t foster a “Look to me for your worth” kind of dynamic. It IS tricky, though, not evaluating — as you wrote about Echo’s freaking DARLING outfit and your reaction to it, it’s HARD sometimes! I want to tell him how AWESOME he is for climbing three flights of stairs at 9 months, or how he is so terribly CUTE.

    As for him not seeing himself through my eyes, and not reacting to his messiness, etc., your words help me to remember to do this, over and over. Just knowing that you are parenting Bella, Xi and Echo in the way you describe in this entry — that you never want them to see themselves through your eyes — helps me to keep on. So thank you. Thank you so much.

    Reply

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