I saw myself in Clare yesterday. It made me smile because I found it flattering.
We were at the beach with her twin sister, Lucy, and some friends from preschool, just enjoying some time and some needed vitamin D. Clare had wandered down the beach a bit, as she’s want to do, to explore a log she had seen ducks near. I was up a bit on the beach, enjoying some adult conversation – likely about pooping or eating or sleeping; scintillating – when I saw one of Lucy’s classmates snatch a dump truck from her wee hands and state, “mine,” in a manner that would have forced profanity from my tiny mouth had I been in Lucy’s place. Lucy, instead of dropping an f-word laced tirade on the little fucker, welled-up with soft tears and walked up the slope to my lap and sat down, inconsolable. As I tried to encourage Lucy to take action that would result in everyone getting what they wanted, I saw Clare in my periphery, laser-focused and locked on the little tyrant and “his” dump truck. My grin grew wide as she reached the truck and boy and did the only right thing. She stared at the boy, said calmly, “Lucy was playing with that,” took it from his fat, toddler fingers, brought it to her sister’s feet, set it down, and walked back down to her dig site to continue her research.
“That is THE SHIT!,” was the only thought in my mind. How awesome is my daughter!? She didn’t say another word. Wicked awesome, that’s how awesome. She was so bad-ass and gentle at the same time. And how awesome am I? That’s my DNA there; my parenting. That’s me, baby! I’m awesome.
It was in that moment that I realized two things:
1. I thought I had children solely to see the result of my DNA and my amazing partner’s DNA co-mingling in our children. I don’t have a farm for which I need to create hands. Child labor laws prevent me using them to support my lavish lifestyle by working in the family garment factory. So, it must be that my desire to have children was the ultimate “selfie.” And,
2.The mirror that is my children reflects that I could be a much, much more supportive, patient, self-aware, tolerant, inviting, daring, sympathetic, compassionate father, husband, friend, man, human.
Oh, my god, I could be so much more. And, it’s not that I learned these things from my kids. My kids don’t teach me; they are me. They are the reflection of me that I don’t or won’t or can’t see in the moment when they are behaving badly – when they’re the ones taking stuff from other kids. When they are the most selfish, I want to distance myself the most. And blame myself for being a bad parent – their mom would be so much better at this if she could stay home with them all the time. I’m really wrecking my children.
And I can’t distance myself from the words and tones they use, in context, verbatim, that are mine. I gave them those words, that tone, when I was talking to them. When one of my kids becomes me in all of my ugliness, yells at her sister and says, “I’m going to ignore you until you stop behaving like a baby,” I am sad and emboldened. I gave her those words. That condescending tone. I’ve got to be better. I can’t blame my kids when they are “bad” me.
And, when one of my kids is me at my best, I can feel pleased – with myself and with them – but I can’t steal their excellence and make it mine. I can’t crow about my awesomeness when it’s them that has earned awe. I can smile and know that I don’t suck at this. But, I could be a whole lot better. I don’t know why I can’t own their excellence as easily as I can own their ugliness. But that’s my problem, not theirs.
And this is why we have kids. Whether we choose to admit it or not, our kids aren’t here for us to construct. They are here to show us who we are and to remind us that we aren’t as awesome as we think we are. They are here to give us the chance to remodel ourselves into the image we once had about what it looked like to be an amazing parent – you know, before kids.