Monday, October 09, 2006
All You Need Is Love...
Amy... I found another chapter from the parenting book for you. This is one of my favorite pictures of John and Colin, taken in Colorado Springs in 2000.
All You Need Is Love
My first born will no doubt be a great leader some day. That’s the little mantra I would mutter under my breath every time the “king” would do his mad little medieval monarch routine. It’s now 1997 and my little darling is 20-months old. I remember being in the grocery store frozen foods one day when my little leader did a Houdini and wrangled himself out of his shopping cart straps, threw himself onto the ground, and kicked and screamed as if someone were poking him with a hot-tipped cow iron. You see, I had just vetoed a second cookie. That’s all it took to incite a revolt.
So in my most calm and deliberative parental tone, I told him it was time to get a grip and get back in the cart. Well, that really got him going. Now, he was a one-man AC/DC concert. While I continued to look down at the flailing leader, I had this sense that heads were popping around corner to sneak a peek. At one point, the meat department manager snaked by. I was so embarrassed I could feel my cheeks burn to match the sirloin stains on his smock. Realizing that my words were getting us nowhere, I grabbed Linda Blair by the arm and proceeded to drag him back toward the cart. Of course, he made himself dead weight and, out of concern that I might dislocate something, I relinquished my grip and let him continue to do that loud, spastic thing as a few disgusted ice cream shoppers piously filed past.
We had days like this. Lots of days. At a particular low point, I remember talking to my dear friend, Nancy, the mother of a grown daughter, and sharing my frustrations about parenting a toddler. I’d never been a mother before. The leader didn’t come with a manual. Though I felt like I was pouring my soul into raising this child, there were days the investment didn't seem to be paying off. What was I doing wrong? Should I be playing more Mozart? Flashing more flash cards? Muh-muh-mouthing more phonics? I had a reading basket piled three-feet high with issues and back-issues of parenting magazines and books and videos and unsolicited advice playing like a stuck record in my head. It was all so mysterious and I drowning in anxiety every time the leader failed to act like a Gap baby.
“Nancy, what am I not getting about this parenting thing?” I asked my friend.
To which she replied, “All in the world a young child needs is love.”
All in the world a young child needs is love…
Those words wrapped around my soul like a fuzzy blanket, because, in spite of what the magazines and the books and the researchers would lead you to believe, I felt, deep down, that my friend had stripped through the tangled underbrush to expose a clear and sensible path forward. Maybe I, like so many mothers I knew, was simply overcomplicating things. Maybe I was fretting too much. Maybe by stepping back and getting in touch with the fundamentals, it would be possible to move forward with more confidence and less guilt. Maybe it was time to accept that fact that there would be inevitable tension around raising kids. Some days you get it right. Some days you flat-out don't. But with the fundamentals in place, there's much hope it will all work out.
What is this love that Nancy was talking about? Love can be gentle and nurturing. It must also involve setting clear boundaries and sticking to them. Celebrating the good choices and having consequences for the bad ones. Saying "yes" with a cheerful heart, and "no" when this is the most loving (though unpopular) option.
Some of the most grounded people I know come from large families where parents couldn't afford to trail each child with a fresh deck of flash cards and a can of Lysol. In these kinds of homes, there isn't the luxury of making an environment perfect and kids learn early what sharing and cooperation is all about. And love in these homes isn't fancy. It isn't based upon the latest gadget or the newest parenting technique. It's a pretty simple equation of respect, cooperation and valuing one another above self.
We've become pretty good at complicating things, haven't we. Why not put the flash cards to the side for a while. Put off the errands and rushing about. Just hang out with your child. Unplug the phone. Stay in your pajamas. Have breakfast for lunch. Forget your "to-do" list. Make memories! Love doesn't have to involve a checkbook or a commute. It happens at home for free!
Postscript: It's been nine years since I wrote that chapter. The "leader" is now in 4th grade. We're still cruising the aisles at the grocery store. No more violence in frozen foods, I'm pleased to report. It's all working out quite beautifully. And, yes, he's still a leader. In a nice non-medieval kind of way.