The thing about lessons is that they spew out of parental orifices on such a regular basis that you are never quite sure which one sticks when and where. After all, we each as as parent is invested in producing “the good human being”, someone who can survive and thrive in the world today AND validate our hard work at the same time, of course. So its our duty to keep that teaching and learning going, no matter how much we suck at its ourselves, that is.
It’s a very visible world today. We all must subscribe to some brand of parenting. We all must show our worth as parents, even if its superficial and we must define the methods. To be fair, parenting styles have existed since time immemorial but this new age of social media sharing and everything speaking and listening has meant that branding also must take place now. Are you a tiger mom or a dolphin dad? Will you adopt the attachment parenting, helicopter parenting or the authoritative parenting technique? There is an avalanche of information, studies and opinions out there to pick and choose from.
Despite all this, most of us move forward without too much thought. We gauge and assess in our heads of course, but we let a lot loose in the wind and mostly go with a deep seated gut instinct of what we feel may be right. Earlier this year I read an article on kindness and decided to change my morning instruction to the kids when they go to school to “Be kind” from my usual, “Have fun or Be happy”. I didn’t think they would notice really. A lot of what I say in the morning is usually lost in the wind but the first time I said “Ok bye. Be kind” , they both stopped short and turned around in surprise. One said okay and the other asked how. I wasn’t quite prepared with the answers so I said, “Well why don’t you think about it today and we can talk about it at bedtime. Ok?”
Kindness isn’t really a very complicated concept for kids. It gets more complicated as we grow and have to mix it up with forgiveness and other annoying things, but the kid-basics are really quite simple. It’s about being nice even when you really don’t get it. And when you are 4 or 7 there are plenty of emotions and situations you don’t really get.
Cue last week when we went to watch Cinderella and her mom’s dying words to her were to be kind and be courageous. My 4 year old- my insightful lovely heart-breaker of a 4 year old, turns to me in delight at the cinema and whispers, her eyes shining, “That’s what you always tell us!” ” I do!” I confirm with a grin and we smile at each other. “But what’s courageous?” “Well that’s being brave even when you don’t feel it.” I am not sure how much she really understood. I am not sure even how much I do, but that something somewhere clicked for her I think.
We have spoken of Cinderella fairly often since then and how not reacting is a kindness especially when someone else is being mean or making you sad. We have spoken of how it takes courage to take the first step to make something ok. (We have also spoken a lot of the dress she wore and how pretty her glass slipper was.) In theory teaching things is quite easy. You talk and read and discuss but hardly ever are we so privy to the playing out in our kids lives where we see things unfold and watch them handle it without being a part of it. As a parent, we tend to want to get involved rather quickly. To manage and conduct and resolve with minimal damage sometimes, because we love so much. But it is indeed quite the privilege to see something play out that affirms your job as a parent is working out on the more abstract level.
The love of Lily’s life is her almost-twin-sister-cousin. The label changes everyday because there really are no words to describe their connect. They live in their own world and they are happiest there when no one is watching. When one hurts the other is miserable so it was no surprise that Leena being unwell yesterday completely tipped the balance. Lily was agitated, trying too hard and feeling helpless. Being ill is horrid, as a grown up I cna verufy that. To a kid it is ten fold that. Nothing makes sense and you are cranky and want to be angry at the world. And who else to be most angry at than the person you want the most from. Lily didn’t get it and with immediate gigantuic tears in her eyes came to me with Leenas being mean and saying she is not my sister anymore. Making light of the matter doesn’t usually work with her, she is too insistent. So I explained how being unwell makes us sad. “How can I make her happy?” Sometimes you cannot, you just have to let people be, I try to explain this terrible grown up concept to her. “But I don’t like it that she’s not my sister” More fat heart-rending tears.
I try not to interfere in kids play. Especially when the kids are ours. I really strongly believe in watching it play out till one has to step in because it gives them the time and space to decide what they are feeling. She distracts herself by coming to the ipad where I am watching something with Aanoo. Soon there is a bit of peace and she is smiling again. Leena then comes up to us and says “Aaanoo you are my sister. Leila is not my sister.” and she turns to Leila and says “You don’t have a sister.” Cue more tears.
The thing about watching your kid get hurt is that it is easy to extricate them from the situation and take them to a safe zone where you will make everything ok. It takes no time to do that. But what when the situation is all between people who love each other? Who in fact cannot be without each other? What does one do then?
Distraction of course was necessary. Do you want to colour? Let me draw for you. Oh lets see how many farm animals we can think of. Its never easy to distract Lily from Leena but she needed a bit of a breather also from the words and feelings. So as we set about the mindless task of colouring with her punctuating every few minutes “Mama I am sad!”, I casually said, “Oh Lily, remember that part in Cinderella when her mom says that when you do kind things they also make you happy.” She looked at me and said yes. The next thing I knew she leaves her stuff and goes and stands next to Leena, who is helping pack up to go home, and taps her on her shoulder. Leena turns around, face round and drawn from her horrid cough and sadness apparent. Leila hold out her arms. Leena pauses for a second studying her and the next minutes they are both stuck to each other, hugging each other.
Why I wanted to write about this particular incident is not because its extraordinary or even unusual. In fact flare ups are a part and parcel of this cousin-siter-twin thingy. It was actually the first time I actually watched her live out a decision based on nothing more than a simple conversation we had one day. I saw her get hurt, struggle and then rise above that for the sake of someone else, with only a tiny prompting from me. In that moment, kindness was everything and the minute she chose that, she somehow made it better for the other person too. The most wonderful thing about kids is their amazing ability to simplify things. They can ex-communicate you in one second (you are NOT my sister) and adopt you in the next breath. They can let go, hold on, be mean and stay kind all at one go without any residue or any lasting damage. Really stuff we grown ups can learn from.