“Mommy, I don’t like that sign.”
“What sign?” I asked my daughter as we drove to daycare, still wiping sleep from our eyes.
“That one.” She said as she lifted her arm and pointed to the corner.
I followed her gaze out the window to the intersection where we were waiting for the red light to change. Sure enough, there was a man standing on the corner holding a politically charged sign. I took this as an opportunity to explain to my daughter why free speech is important, and why we are so lucky to have the freedom to express our own opinions.
Then I told her, “I don’t like that sign either because I don’t agree with what that man is saying.”
She paused and thought for a minute (while I quietly celebrated my successful explanation of free speech). Then she responded, “Well, I don’t like it because it’s not purple.”
Maybe my lesson about free speech didn’t sink in as much as I’d hoped or thought, but it did show me an important lesson in seeing the world through the innocent, ignorant, and hopeful eyes of a toddler. My daughters live in a sleepy neighborhood in a suburb of a big city, where their biggest fear is Swiper from Dora stealing their toys. They don’t read the news of a school shooting every week. They don’t fear for their safety or want for their basic needs. Seeing the world through my kids’ eyes is an opportunity to see the world through the rosiest of colored glasses, and to reset and recalibrate my own viewpoint and attitude from time to time.
Too often I hear myself telling my kids “don’t do this,” or “please do that,” and using the one phrase I never thought I’d say – “because I said so.” Each time these phrases cross my lips, I have to remind myself that barking orders and explaining my requests to a toddler is just as confusing to them as their babble is to me. We are all trying to communicate with each other, but how much are we really hearing?
As I sat in my daughter’s bedroom a few days ago, carrying a conversation with her about her request for a painting princess birthday party and looking her squarely in the eyes, I saw a glimpse into her world where her newfound love of princesses drives most of her imagination, and her love for painting couples perfectly with that. It extends farther than this, though. Each night at dinner I listen to her tell me about the games she played with her friends on the playground, and starting around 7:30pm, I try to follow her train of thought as she mercilessly avoids bedtime. In these moments, I see what she is seeing. A world full of wonder and possibility. Of monsters under the bed and fairy princesses just a stone’s throw away. A world that is simultaneously a protected bubble and chaotically large.
Bedtime a few nights ago was the perfect example. My little one was “reading” to her teddy bear in her bed, periodically calling “mama,” just to make sure I was still nearby. Meanwhile, as I finished story time with my older one, she asked me, “Mommy? Are there any monsters?”
“No honey. There are no monsters. They all went home and went to bed.” (Read: you should go to bed, too.)
“But, did you throw them in the trash?”
“Sure honey. I threw them in the trash. Now go to sleep.”
Five minutes later, she called me back into her room and told me that she was feeling scared of monsters. And I, in my infinite parenting wisdom (read: desperation) explained to her that I’ve hired “Joe, the room protector” to watch over her room when I’m sleeping so that no monsters bother her while we’re playing in our dreams. (Think I’ll be paying for that in her therapy bills later?) She seemed to accept this explanation and rolled over to attempt sleep once again.
Five minutes later, I heard her calling me again. “Mommy, were you just pretending about that guy Joe?” My first thought was “she’s on to me,” but as I tried to see the world from her perspective, I realized that I had an opportunity to simultaneously teach her about using our imaginations while being honest with her. As I spent the next ten minutes explaining all the different ways we use our imagination and why sleep is so important, she looked up at me with sleepy eyes and finally said “Okay mommy. But is Joe on a break?”
“Yes honey. Joe is on a break.”
Too often, I get caught up in the moment of where we need to be, or get sucked into snooping on my Facebook friends to really see what my kids are seeing. But, when I stop and live within the context of their world and try to see the world the way that they do, the world becomes a much smaller, much happier and more peaceful place. And I think we could all use a little of that smaller, happier, more peaceful place once in a while.