Saturday, July 4, 2015

The PSAs of Parenting

“Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.” - Buddha

Sometimes, parenting feels like an endless stream of PSAs. I have moments where I literally feel like I’m a parent in one of those old After-School specials; that’s how hokey, crafted, and wholesome the words are that come out of my mouth. As parents, we know all about “those” topics that we know we will have to discuss with our kids at some point, so I like to have something kind of cued up, pre thought-out, sort of simmering along on the back-burner.

Yesterday it was a good thing I had so many pots already boiling away because my nine year old was in a talkative mood and she wanted to talk about all kinds of things.

Here are some snippets:

On Love:
We were watching North and South. No, not the BBC series. The 1985 miniseries with Patrick Swayze (with the most glorious hair ever), James Read, Kirstie Alley, Philip Casnoff (omg…yum), Genie Francis, and oodles of other popular actors of the time.

My youngest is nine years old, almost ten, and the notions of race expressed in this miniseries are different than she has ever been exposed to. She was extraordinarily bothered by it.

“Mom,” she asked me, “Why is it bad for Virgilia and Grady to be together if they’re in love?”

(Virgilia [played by Kirstie Alley] is a white northern abolitionist who helps the slave Grady [played by Georg Stanford Brown] escape the south. They fall in love and get married.)

I explained that at this time in history, people had the wrong idea about the races and thought they shouldn’t date or marry each other, and isn’t that silly?

She was quiet for a little while, but not happy. I could see the little wheels turning in her head.

“So,” she finally said, “what would happen if someone brown wanted to love me? Is that still bad?”

And there it was. Time to bring pot #1 forward.

I turned the movie off, turned toward her and said, “No. You listen to me, now. It doesn’t matter if you love someone who is black, white, brown, red, yellow, or any other shade of any color there is. It doesn’t matter if you love a he or a she. What matters is that you love and that you are loved in return. You can’t special order what package your true love comes in. You just accept it when it comes, however it comes.”

She looked at me hard, and asked one more time, “It doesn’t matter anymore?”

“It doesn’t matter anymore,” I confirmed.

My daughter will not grow up thinking love is wrong. And that’s all I have to say about that.

On Sisterhood:
Or this could probably be titled “On Fighting”. There is a four-year age gap between Emma and Violet. This leads to a lot of old-fashioned sisterly bickering and all-out door-slamming. There’s a big difference between almost-10 and almost-14, or – in other words – almost-fifth grade and almost-ninth grade. Emma still plays with dolls and Barbies, still creates magical worlds with legos and stuffed animals. Violet likes to play role-playing games on the computer, text on her phone, and read. Worlds apart. Emma’s answer to this is to nag Violet constantly about playing with her. This causes some frustration.

After this had gone on for a few hours, I called them both in to my room for a family meeting. Oh, how they hate family meetings. They know I’m about to talk…a lot. And I did. But the part I stressed was this:

“You need to remember that y’all are it. Sisters for life. At some point, you two will be living in this world without me. You two need to be able to lean on each other, learn from each other, and love each other. I need to know that even when I’m not here, you two will still be fine and will still have one another. You need each other, even if you can’t quite see it now.”

Emma’s father had died before she was born. Their brother had died in 2003. We are all familiar with the concept of death. But the girls had never applied it to me. They had never thought that I might not be there for the rest of their lives. This was a brand new thought to them. It shook them.

The fighting hasn’t magically stopped, but it has gotten better.

On Conscience:
“Mom, don’t you ever just want to do the wrong thing?” Emma asked me.

Questions like this can be delicate, but I always try to tell her the truth. Kids are excellent at sniffing out lies, and if you lie to them once, they are wary of trusting you again.

“Yeah, there are a lot of times I want to do the wrong thing,” I admitted.

“Really?” She seemed absolutely stunned that I would cop to that. “Why don’t you?”

Why don’t I? A most excellent question.

“Sometimes I do. Because I’m stubborn and want things my way. But I always end up feeling guilty so I wind up doing the right thing after all. It’s a hard lesson to learn. I make a lot of mistakes. I’ve learned to admit when I’m wrong and ask for help. I’ve learned it’s better to do the right thing even when you don’t want to.”

I didn’t think she was really listening to me because she was fiddling with the new panda bear pillow pet her aunt had just given her. But she was. She was processing.

“I’m still learning that,” she said.

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. “I like helping you learn,” I told her. “My goal is to be the voice you hear in your head. That’s why I do the right thing.”

We may be schmaltzy, but that’s fine. I talk to my girls. I talk to them about everything. When they have questions, they know they can ask me. When they have a problem, they know they can come to me. Maybe I sound like a hokey After-School special or one of those “The More You Know” TV spots, but I communicate with my kids. We talk about the silly little things, like what the dogs are thinking, to the big things, like equal rights.

I want to be the voice they hear in their heads because theirs are the voices that beat in my heart.

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