Friday, February 19, 2016
As Kate grows older and becomes more independent, I have noticed an interesting, and sometimes terrifying thing; she isn't listening to me as much. It isn't that she is defiant, but rather she is evaluating my actions more and my words less. Though, my words are being evaluated as well, just the ones not directed at her, but rather the ones she picks up from my conversations with others. Thus we have had the misfortune and fortunate confluence of events that makes me want to write a letter to all the adults in the world.
Last week, a couple of our kids had an interaction with an adult that was down right scary for them. A parent found some damage, and, after her children denied responsibility, she berated ours with cuss words and vehemence. She zeroed in on one of the kids as being the cause of all that is wrong with the world and screamed nastiness to our kids as well as their friend, who she thought might also have done the dastardly thing. Scott was nearby, so he confronted the woman, who turned to him and verbally assaulted him, telling him, "You better watch your youngest." Becket was in Scott's arms. Scott, being a good man, told the kids to go to safety and repeated that swearing at the kids was not going to be tolerated. She continued to rant, so Scott left the scene disgusted and angry.
The following days have been spent with examining the events. We told the kids that not all adults are safe. We explained what to do if they should find themselves in the same position. And then I took it further. I told our kids that when you do not try to discipline your emotions, you grow into an undisciplined adult. I tried to show them that what they consider "appropriate adult behavior" comes from growing up learning how to behave like an adult who can be admired and respected and trusted. I explained that you cannot hold yourself to unreasonable standards either, that there is a balance between taking responsibility and self-hatred because, sometimes, those who take it too far the other way begin to hate others because they hate themselves. All these things came from lots of little conversations that I hope were not too intimidating.
A few days later, Kate had a doctor appointment to evaluate whether she needed her tonsils out. The doctor is a brilliant surgeon, attractive and calm and incredibly intelligent -- all the things to which a 12 year old girl would respond well. He had to run a scope through her nose into her throat to check her adenoids. As he did so, he talked her through it calmly asking about her favorite things to do. Kate, who is the best child patient I have ever seen, cringed during the procedure. Afterward the doctor did something wonderful.
The doctor, who told us he did not recommend surgery, leaned forward to Kate and said, "Before I ran the scope you were afraid, weren't you?" Kate nodded. "But now, you know it was not as bad as you thought. You won't sign up for it, but if you need it, you can handle it more easily.
"For the rest of your life you will have things that you want or need to do that will feel scary. Remember this, because you can do them, you will do them, and they won't be as bad as you thought. Fear lives in your head, not in the doing. Remember that, okay?"
This is the case of an adult understanding his impact, and offering something that cost him nothing, but will last forever. It is something neither Scott nor I could give to our kids because we are the constant, the usual, the mundane. When an adult steps out of their usual role to offer a kid something of substance, that kid becomes more prepared for life. It takes no time, and it costs nothing.
We can mess that up also. We can behave badly around children and, unless we make amends, we can become a cautionary tale. We can show kids that adults don't need to behave, don't have to behave and, as long as we stay inside the law, there isn't much anyone can do about it. While children who have proper guidance can use those moments as life's boundary lines, those without might be attracted to the flawed freedom of being unhinged. Some may see it as a hall pass to be a bully, or lazy, or lack insight.
Which is what I wish all adults would understand. We are all examples in the lives of the children around us. One day, those children will be in charge, long before we are dead. What kind of leaders are we raising? How will they treat us? More to the point, what do we deserve?