On a recent rainy day I took the kids to a local children’s museum as my oldest needed to run. And run he did. There were all sorts of animals he could see – several varieties of snakes – as well as a big area designed to look like a small/old town complete with two stories on which to play. He was in his glory. To say he was excited when an employee announced a live animal demonstration with two of their snakes would be an understatement. All I had to do was point him in the direction of the classroom and off we went; the only question he asked was where to sit. [The google image searches on my computer have blessedly changed from ticks to snakes as a result.]
A couple of older boys, about five or six, sat next to him. At which point that very outgoing child of mine proceeded to talk to them. Looks were exchanged between those two boys followed by that shrug we’ve all received or made to indicate how that other person was “weird” and not someone to talk to or include. The light and excitement dimmed on my son’s face; his exuberance muted and cut out as he got very still and quiet. I saw it happen and then proceeded to discard it as important until it came to haunt me at about midnight – just after watching some of Downton Abbey.
Then it struck me. He was being schooled on how society does not accept people for who they are, but rather in their ability to conform to social rules that are never said honestly and upfront. As much as I find these “rules” to be odious and annoying they’re ones I subconsciously conform to. And upon closer reflection I realized that lately I have been trying to get them (okay, him – ten month old is a wee young for me to even remotely project this nonsense on to) to conform to them, too. Exuberance became embarrassing ; vocalized joy was discomfitting; funny words, phrases, anatomical statements made into jokes – horrifying.
I don’t know when it was I decided he should stop acting like a kid; when it became an embarrassment instead of something I was both proud of and exalted in. It just sort of happened. My criticisms started getting more frequent; just nitpicky little shit that had me whining and being a bitch all day long. The Big Rule I had set out for myself as a parent had been forgotten amid the self justifying bad attitude of a rigid control freak: Rules must be founded upon a logical premise. When I saw those two little you-know-whats make my kid feel like he was two inches shorter than normal the reality really hit. I was doing nothing less to my child than those boys.
Perhaps that is slightly unfair to me, if only in the context that I’ve taught that rules have reasons for existing part pretty well up until recently and so many decrees have been greeted with a “so you think I’m going to stop running around like a crazy person when I get excited and humming really loud soundtracks for the drawings I’m making just because you said so – bwahahahahaha!” Still, the lesson couldn’t have been clearer to me. My son, both my children really, will go through a tough learning curve when adapting to “society”. That these interactions and “how to be” around other people we just meet are done with cloak and dagger precision until all ritual formalities are met. Sometimes even after then. Our soft underbellies of personality, and with it heart, logic, opinions, are shrouded and guarded. The vulnerability is hidden under taught shame and sometimes forceful exclusion.
How can one exist healthfully when such notions are unspoken rules? How does one feel SAFE as they traverse through a life of landmines?
It became apparent to me, painfully so, that the best thing I could do as a parent was to go back to my original notions and thoughts. To instill in my children that if nothing else – home is where they can safely be who they are. The rules are spelled out and based upon logic and respect. Behavioral requirements rest solely upon those two subsets. And if you want to talk ad nauseum about your sea turtle shirt, or the imaginary kitties crossing in front of you in the kitchen, or sing songs with silly made up words – go right ahead. This Attachment Parent will do her best to get past her inner curmudgeon and let the little ones be simply who they are.