Monday, September 6, 2010

Through the eyes of a child

One of the best parts about being a parent is getting to see the world through the eyes of a child, again. Life doesn’t get much better then abandoning all inhibitions and being a child with your child. I am my happiest when running through sprinklers with my clothes on, eating ice cream for breakfast and flying around my house in a Batman cape trying to capture The Joker. I delight in the “easy” questions about thunderstorms, bugs and eye color. I have waited years to have these engaging conversations with my children. Watching their minds process and retain information is quite enjoyable and satisfying.
But what about the tough questions?
I’m not talking about the “where do babies come from?" or “why is that woman so fat?” line of questioning. I have questions such as these covered. I am 100% comfortable talking about sex, diversity and life style. I relish in these teachable moments to talk about the facts, acceptance and a love of all people. I also find great joy in sharing my values and since my kids are so young, they blindly accept what I say as fact and move on. I know that I will soon be challenged, but I welcome the debate as well so that I can watch them interpret the world in which they live.
The questions that stump me are the questions to which I have no answers. The questions that I have stuffed down so deep that they have disappeared from my radar. These questions about loss, pain, and suffering are the ones that are causing me discomfort. Lately my daughter has been asking me really hard ones -- ones that keep me up at night. Ones that I have spend a lifetime trying to forget.  The tough question variety include: “Why do some children have nothing to eat? Why did God make mean people? Why do bad things happen?” To these questions I simply say, “I don’t know.”
The challenge from the little ones…
A few weeks ago we were driving in the car and stopped for a red light. Outside my daughter’s car window was a man with a sign asking for money. This man stands in this spot often, but today was the first day my daughter showed curiosity. She asked me to read the sign and to explain why he was standing there. I did both. My children were very confused as to why I wasn’t helping this man.  My three and five year old scolded me as they recited what I had told them about helping those in need, being kind and sharing what you have. I was stumped. I drove away feeling ashamed and emotional.
I recently started a new job, with a new commute. On this commute I see four or five people begging for money each morning and afternoon. They stand in the same spot, with the same signs. I am getting to know them in a way. They each have their story, and their unique styles of getting attention. Before I had this conversation with my children I would have ignored them, diverted any eye contact and prayed for the light to turn green to avoid having to think about where they sleep at night. Now, I watch for them, I am hyper aware of them. I make eye contact and say hello. Yet, I never give them money or offer to help. My kids would be disappointed.
My kids are teaching me to look again
I am more sensitive than most. Everything bothers me if I let it. I won’t even kill a bug. If I watch a Save the Child Campaign on television, it is enough to send me into a depression for a few weeks. So for me, dwelling on the devastations and injustices of the world will throw me into the corner to rock back and forth until it goes away. I have chosen not to look. I don’t watch the news anymore, I won’t engage in upsetting conversation. These things can break me. I spent a lifetime learning to filter and ignore; now I am being forced to look, listen and explain. What I really want to do is teach my children to stick their fingers in their ears, close their eyes and sing” la la la” until it goes away.
It doesn’t work like that. It is my responsibility as a parent to teach them about the beauty of life, and the ugly parts too. They need me to explain, comfort and inspire because they are experiencing it with or without me. I must look, listen and learn. I will also support their coping mechanisms whether they choose the ‘head in the sand’ approach as their mother, or become activists! So thank you to my children for teaching me to be curious again, to reach out and to love. I won’t always have the answers and I suppose I don’t have to. Sometimes saying “I don’t know” is truly all you can say.

When is it that we turn from curious and compassionate children to hardened self-preserved adults? Would the world really be a better place if we all saw it through the eyes of a child again? How do you deal with the painful parts of life to which you have no answers?

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr

1 comment:

  1. Heather's SisterSeptember 12, 2010 at 8:10 PM

    I live on the Oakland-Berkeley border, California. There is no ignoring anything here. I once almost got run out of town for wearing Nike shoes. I've always been socially conscious--I am an artist, politically engaged... But in Berkeley, I learned how many levels deeper I still had to go in my own awareness, especially on the global level.
    Still, sometimes I get so sick of EVERYthing having to have social relevance where I am immersed. (I work at UC, too!) As an artist, I beg, what about beauty, emotion, art for art's sake? Socialist countries like Sweden have demonstrated that uplifting DESIGN, for example, is not necessarily borgeois!

    So I vote for balance by suggesting *altering* the balance. Maybe teach your kids that there is a lot of ugly stuff, but by adding to the good stuff, they have the power inside to make the world a little bit brighter. And they have the power inside to lead others to make things better. And these little baby collective steps all add up, over time. We are part of a spider web.

    Maybe also teaching kids that change begins with them getting their own little selves aligned. There is so much activism around me in the Bay Area, and so often I see people working out their own internal anger and feelings of helplessness THROUGH their causes. This becomes so dualistic, so us-them. --which helps nothing. So maybe teaching kids to fill their own hearts as big as the can, like balloons, and EMANTING all that LOVE is a good starting point, too.

    Yes, tough questions. Good luck!