A Child’s Perspective

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):

  1. 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 . . . .
  2. . . . her dad, making joyful smiling eye contact with her with the most obvious love and focus.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
    Pink cup in foreground of a table with empty Thanksgiving plates, flowers, and the arms of one of the diners seen in the background. Inside of a pink cup showing a few mililiters of reddish fluid (a mixture of juice and liquid anitibiotic).
  5. Her sister’s new food tray, which she also has, that they are loving.Teal toddler's food tray with rice dish, sourdough bread, pomegranate seed, and mashed potatoes in the main largest section with cup and dishes in background and an adult arm and child's body in the background.
  6. 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.
    Pink and white two-wheeled child's bike with training wheels next to a walker with a black coat draped over it.

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.

Child's body wearing a "Star Wars" shirt with four spice jars built into a bridge tower. There is a metal bowl in the foreground with chopped cranberries and walnuts as well as an orange and a blue measuring cup.

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.

Stating the Obvious

I think sometimes we adults forget how quickly we process environmental and experiential information compared to small children.

Pickup from daycare was a little different today. Normally, 3-year-old E’s Dad picks her up, but he had something else this evening and I agreed to pick her up. My daughter would meet us at my house, we would all spend a little time together, and then they would continue the rest of the way home.

Everything went well (other than a massive attack of mosquito bites on my daughter because of the rain last night and I haven’t been keeping up with the creek treatments and mosquitoes have always desired her gourmet blood). When it came time to go home, I put 1-year-old A in her car seat while 3-year-old E was climbing from the front seat to the back seat. Granddaughter E and I both realized at the same second that there was no car seat in its regular spot — there was just a big empty void of space above the back seat. Instantly, my daughter and I knew what happened. I told my daughter it was okay, I would drive E to their house right quick and I started assisting my granddaughter out of my daughter’s car, back into my house to grab my car keys, and back into my car, moving even more quickly than would otherwise be requisite due to the mosquitoes gathering in numbers with the descending dusk.

All the while, little E’s agitation continued to rise and finally broke out into outright wails. Safely in the car, but before starting to drive, I turned to console her.

E wanted to know why someone stole her car seat.

What my daughter and I had simultaneously deduced, without ever saying a word, was that she and my son-in-law had moved E’s car seat to the other vehicle over the weekend. They had simply forgotten to the move E’s car seat back to the main child-transporting-vehicle last night.

Because it was immediately obvious to the adults what had happened, we had simply reacted and adjusted course without verbalizing exactly what that situation was. However, it had not been obvious to 3-year-old E. At all.

On the entire drive back to their house, I explained to E what had happened: that it was just an accident that Mom and Dad had forgotten to move her car seat back and that they would surely take care of it tonight. E asserted that she would check the other car herself to determine that her car seat was actually where I said it was. Fair enough.

It’s hard to be 3. A little information helps.

It’s hard to be a parent, a grandparent, an adult, too. We keep trying and, hopefully, keep getting a little more skillful at it.

In the Middle of It All

I am one of those people – the ones who significantly rearrange furniture within rooms and between rooms on a recurring basis. I don’t know what drives other people to do this, but for me, no matter how often I am sure I have the most functional arrangement, there always comes a time when there is a better arrangement.

Saturday was that time.

An example of the reasoning behind the changes: I set up a room for the grandkids immediately when I moved in. That was on the main floor. I set up my bedroom in the basement room (a very nice room that was cooler in the summers). I told myself that when the grandkids slept over, it would be just fine. I would get a baby monitor so I could hear if they needed me and I told myself that adults sleep on different floors than children all the time. Yep. I couldn’t do it. I could not bring myself to sleep in my room on a entirely different floor when they had sleepovers. That meant I wasn’t getting great sleep on those nights. So, even though I loved my library/study as it was, with a lovely alcove window facing the wooded area behind the house, one of the changes was to move my bedroom up to the main floor. And, if you move your bedroom into the study, you must move the computer and recliner out. And so it goes.

As I was heaving and pushing and carrying things hither and thither, my two 65-pounds dogs were always lounging smack dab in the way. I was musing to myself why this might be and I realized that they wanted to be near me but I was constantly in motion. The best solution, for them, was to take up posts in the middle of it all – at the focus.

Which made me think of my childhood. My mother was always complaining that my brothers and I would literally sit in the interior doorways of our house. She complained because we were in the way when other people wanted to be in motion. We would sit crosswise in the doorway, feet propped against one doorjamb and back braced against the opposite one. Sometimes we were there chatting, sometimes that was where we chose to read a book, sometimes we were just there. We did not have a TV when I was growing up (a choice my parents made) and Nintendo was just barely coming out (one of my brothers eventually saved up enough money to buy his own). So, if we were not at school, in the neighborhood, in the woods, working, or out and about and, therefore, were inside the house, I guess we just wanted to be in the middle of it all. At least, during the day.

PS I am quite happy with the new arrangement of the house. Stay tuned for the next rearrangement!