As adults, we are conditioned to pursue self-improvement. Eat healthier, lower your cholesterol, lose weight, quit smoking, quit drinking, be more organized, be less organized, have more fun, have less fun(?), exercise more. There’s a self-help book for every obsession, affliction, personality quirk and nuance, and 10 minutes with Oprah or Dr. Phil will make you painfully self-aware of every flaw. And you might pick something—for me it’s patience—to work on. And if you’re like me, you’ll make the effort daily, and most likely you’ll fail, daily. But it’s okay, or at least you’ll tell yourself this as you fall asleep, because there’s always tomorrow. Today was just a crazy day.
But then one day, you see yourself in your kids.
L is 4, a frustrating age anyway. Then again are there non-frustrating ages? I don’t know…yet. I’m hoping. But no matter the task, she doesn’t need any help. She knows everything. Just ask her, she’ll tell you. And I smile through clenched teeth because she is just like me. Down to the face she makes when she’s mad, her independence, her inclination for solitude, her wandering.
It’s a relentless challenge to battle L’s unyielding stubbornness with give. To show her patience, not just tell her about it. These are real teaching moments—there are actual lessons in there, for both of us. But what about accepting, even loving, all the other imperfections? The ones that make her, her…even if they also make me, me.
This weekend, we went to a birthday party. When all the kids were outside, playing in the sprinkler, L was inside playing at the kitchen set by herself. When all the kids came inside for cake, she went out to the picnic table to color. Mr. Beaker leaned over and whispered to me: I think our kid is the weird kid. And we laughed because, yeah, she totally is. I whispered back: Your wife was, too.
I think it’s a hard lesson to learn that you can’t self-help your way into fixing your kids. I hope I’m learning that when she’s 4, not 14 or 24. It’s both exhilarating and terrifying to watch your children and see yourself, like looking into an eerie crystal ball. Knowing the hardships they’ll face because they have your foibles and fallacies, and the successes they’ll have because they have your strengths.
Will she be bullied in school because she is different, more imaginative? It’s possible. Can I do anything about it? More importantly, should I do anything about it? Can I, or should I, teach her how to fit in? Encourage her to play with the other kids at the party, even if what she really wants is to play alone? I honestly don’t know. I didn’t do anything. Truth be told, I sort of enjoyed watching her.
Doesn’t that imply some sort of self-acceptance? Well, take that, Oprah.