Change is usually hard and requires persistent effort, often stopping and starting. There have been at least two times in my life when change has been basically immediate. One of those two times was spurred by my daughter when she was quite young. I was a single mother for most of her growing up, and being a single parent is hard. I had quickly abandoned physical punishment when I realized it simply did not work with her. But, when I really needed to get my point across, I would yell.
One day, she tearfully told me that I frightened her when I yelled. It pulled me up short. I wanted her to understand. I did not want her to be frightened. After she went to bed later that day, I went into the bathroom. I wanted to understand from her perspective, as best I could. I intentionally recalled my feelings of frustration and anger and even isolation. I recalled the details of the incident. Without vocalizing aloud, I looked into the mirror and “yelled” at her again. I was shocked. No child should see that face. I was mortified.
I never yelled at her like that again. I was still a single parent. Parenting was still hard. I still got angry and frustrated. But, I never relied on the energy in my face and voice to communicate. I was not the perfect parent. In fact, I keep realizing more and more my human shortcomings, all these years later. But, I did temper that one reactive behavior. Immediately.
I am grateful she told me how my actions made her feel. I am grateful, for some reason, the full weight of what she was saying was not lost on me.
That’s a heavy way to begin a Thanksgiving post. But, since then, I have been fairly interested in how children see the world and how we, adults, can see ourselves more objectively.
After our Thanksgiving meal this year, I let my daughter’s oldest daughter, 3-year-old E, have my phone so she could look through the photos I had taken of her helping me cook earlier in the day. She quickly transitioned to taking new photos with my phone. Lots and lots of photos (more than 50?). How lucky that digital photography, existing on our phones, means that small children can experiment and develop an eye without prohibitive film-developing costs!
Today, I looked through her photos, deleting the ones of walls, floor, slivers of the tops of heads, and ones unbearably out-of-focus even with auto-focus technology at play. And, then, I started really looking at the remaining ones. This is what I saw (no photos shared for the first three):
- Her mother and I having great conversations while I held her 1-year-old sister. Those were lovely pictures until I saw, the pictures of . . . .
- . . . her dad, making joyful smiling eye contact with her with the most obvious love and focus.
- Some great self-portraits, trying out different facial expressions. No duck lips and none perfectly framed from above, but all with curiosity and intrigue while looking at herself — and fun.
- A study of this cup of a little juice mixed in with her antibiotic that represents the negotiated peace deal for taking said hated antibiotic twice a day for her ear infection.
- Her sister’s new food tray, which she also has, that they are loving.
- Her beloved two-wheeler. It is just happenstance that her dad’s walker, in use after his severe leg injury, is also captured – but it, too, is a snapshot of a huge event in their lives.
And then my photos were next (previous in time) in the sequence. Between the severe poison ivy reaction and then the allergic reaction to prednisone and only taking two days off from work, my kitchen in the background is a disaster zone. But, these are some of my favorite pictures. Do I wish the background was pristine? Sure, I guess? But, the joy on E’s face while whipping cream and mixing pumpkin pie spices into the sugar and everything else are the absolute best and I wouldn’t trade them for the world, least of all for a clean-kitchen backdrop. Life is chaotic and messy, but we find joy anyway.
Spices are sage, tarragon, basil, marjoram, and thyme.
I fear things for all the world may be getting more chaotic and difficult. Hopefully, we will still find joy while trying to mitigate the harm and improve our interactions.