She stands at the top of the stairs in the middle of when she should have been napping and calls down to me, “Mom, can I come see you?”
I tense. In a flash, thoughts run through my head. I know the tone of her voice – the bordering-on-whiny voice she uses when she knows she’s asking something that will get an answer of No. I’m annoyed because this is my quiet time, too, being interrupted. She knows she can’t get up, but she’s asking anyway which means that when I inevitably answer “No,” she will go and lay down, but it will come with tears and loud crying that will make me quick to hiss at her to be quiet so that she doesn’t wake her brother.
I take a deep breath. “No, honey, it’s nap time – you need to go back to bed.”
She goes and the crying ensues. She doesn’t wake her brother, but I’m still annoyed inside.
I pause. Take another deep breath. Think about how I choose to perceive a situation. Know that even when I hold it in, they still understand and feel my annoyance. Think about the ironic nature of my immediate reaction because as this is happening, I’m listening to this amazing recording(recommended here by Mary) of Krista Tippett’s interview with Sylvia Boorstein called, “What We Nurture.”
Just as I re-focus and listen again Krista begins talking to Sylvia about teaching kindness to children and asks her if it’s something she directly addressed with her children and grandchildren. Sylvia responds,
“I think it comes up in the conversation from time to time, but I don’t bring it up as a sermon. I think what we respond to and what we nurture, that’s really what grows in our children.”
It hits me hard. I pause the interview and go upstairs. She’s already asleep on top of blankets piled on the floor of my closet. I lean down and brush the sweaty hair out of her eyes and feel her sweet cheek. I put my hand on her chest to feel her breathing and she groggily wakes and looks up at me through half-open eyes. I ask her if she’s ok and she closes her eyes and nods. I ask her if she wants me to lay with her for a little while in bed, the thing I should have done in the first place and she shakes her head, sticks her thumb back in her mouth and curls in just a little bit more while I cover her shoulders with the blanket.
I come back downstairs and hit play to continue listening. A few minutes in, she starts a story:
“One of my friends has a story he likes to tell: A wise grandfather says to his grandson…’I have two wolves in my heart, one is loving and the other is vicious and they are at war with each other.’ And the grandson says, ‘Which is going to win?’ And the grandparent says, ‘The one I feed.’ I think our children learn to speak in the tone we speak in or to hold people kindly if we do.”
I think about kindness often. I think about teaching my children kindness and of living kindness myself. I have struggled often over the past few years with coming to terms with my religion, but on a spiritual basis I’m firm: the one thing that translates through all religions as the thing that matters most is that we all treat one another kindly in the world.
I am not claiming to be kind all the time. Quite the opposite, I think I focus on it a lot because I catch myself often saying or doing things that are just not the way I want to be. The tone of voice I use when speaking to my children. A reaction I had months ago to a friend when she was discussing a really difficult situation with her daughter and how she handled it – I reacted unfairly and harshly and had absolutely no right to judge and it still haunts me, though I apologized. Jumping down my husband’s throat because I’m having a bad day and I make the choice to take it out on him.
But we have to be kind to ourselves, too. Part of kindness is giving ourselves a break and acknowledging that we will never be perfect all of the time. Through it all, there is kindness in the hand on top of my kids’ heads running my fingers through their hair as they watch Sesame street. It’s my arm around them rubbing a belly or a back while we read a book. It’s the extra kisses and hugs even as they’re trying to wiggle away.
It’s in the little gestures through the day that they will never understand until they have children of their own – brushing teeth and hair and making meals and making beds. Loads of laundry and stopping laundry to have a dance party and constant dish washing and making food choices that matter and that will help them grow. Figuring out how to make my work schedule happen so that I spend as much time as possible with them while still making money to pay off debt to give our family more financial freedom long-term. It’s the minor difficulties and annoyances we accept by living near both of our families because we know that the good of having family nearby and watching our children grow in their relationships with grandparents and aunts and uncles far outweighs any adult annoyances.
Letting them get dirty and wet when it makes us cringe to think of the messes that we’ll have to clean up later because we know that their freedom and play outside is one of the most important parts of childhood. Learning that sometimes we don’t get to go to the park because taking our neighbor to the doctor or grocery store matters, too. Helping to pay for the groceries of the person in line in front of us because their card was declined.
On the word kindness, Sylvia Boostein says “…and I think it’s a word that subsumes tolerance and forgiveness and graciousness and patience.” I could not agree more.