Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Failures of Kindness

In this season of graduation speeches and advice, I read this speech from George Saunders on the Times site. You should definitely read it in its entirety. It's filled with lovely sentiments and good advice, but the part that really punched me in the gut was this:

                   But here’s something I do regret:
                   In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class. In the interest of confidentiality, her Convocation Speech 
                   name will be “ELLEN.” ELLEN was small, shy. She wore these blue cat’s-eye glasses that, at the time, only 
                   old ladies wore. When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into  
                   her mouth and chewing on it.
                   So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair 
                   taste good?” — that sort of thing). I could see this hurt her. I still remember the way she’d look after such 
                   an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was 
                   trying, as much as possible, to disappear. After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth. At home, 
                   I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, 
                  fine.” And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.”
                  Sometimes I’d see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.
                  And then — they moved. That was it. No tragedy, no big final hazing.
                  One day she was there, next day she wasn’t.
                  End of story.
                  Now, why do I regret that? Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it? Relative to most of the other 
                  kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even 
                  (mildly) defended her.
                  But still. It bothers me.
                  So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:
                  What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.
                  Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. 
                  Reservedly. Mildly.

It reminds me of one of those things that I can't let go of from middle school, that niggles at me to this day. There was a girl who was a bit slower. She didn't have the ease at making friends that so many others had, but she was genuine and would never have dreamed of anything hurtful to say to anyone. And one of the popular girls who was certainly capable of thinking and doing hurtful things toward other girls took notice of her one day in our gym locker room and told her she needed a makeover. 

This potential mean girl proceeded to outline her eyes with tons of liner and tell her how much better she looked. I didn't say a word; I just went home that night and cried because I didn't do anything for her. I didn't (and actually still don't) know if this was one of those rare times that the potential mean girl was being genuine. After all, it was her own eyeliner and it was a similar look to her own, so it was not obviously done to be funny or hurtful. I was afraid to speak up because I didn't want to hurt the shy girl finally getting attention from the popular girl. She practically beamed at herself in the mirror afterward. 

So why did it bother me so much and why does it continue to bother me? 

At the time I thought it was the uncertainty about the situation that bothered me so much, but now I suspect it's because I didn't go out of my way to be her friend. That memory just illustrates so vividly how badly she wanted a connection and how often we were all so indifferent to her. Perhaps that potential mean girl was actually nicer to her than I was. She paid attention and made a gesture, and I didn't. I wasn't mean, but I missed the opportunity to be kind.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Though She Be But Little...

My daughter has gotten a healthy dose of stubborn from each of her parents, she cleverly "doesn't hear" me when I ask her to do things she doesn't want to, and she refuses to take naps when there is anything even slightly interesting going on that she might miss.

But as aggravating as our little curly-headed monster can be, I find myself filled with pride even at her most infuriating moments.

Probably chucked the spoons seconds later to go
both hands in on the custard and blueberries
She tries pretty much anything if she sees us eating it.
She happily eats moderately spicy things (hot Italian sausage, salsa), loves rabbit and lamb, and eats sauteed spinach (though that's currently one of the few greens that is easy to get in her-it's a texture thing). "MmmUmm" she says as she awkwardly spoons food into her mouth. Then, when that's not quick enough or accurate enough, she abandons the spoon and uses her hands.  

Making silly faces during dinner
She loves to be silly.
Daddy taught her how to throw snowballs at mommy's butt, so now that's the first thing she does in snow, giggling uncontrollably when she squishes it on my rear. She loves to make us laugh, repeating anything that gets a laugh out of us over and over. She makes funny faces and dances and sings. Her laugh is possibly the best sound on earth. She's recently started giggling to herself over things, which is so entertaining even if I can't tell what in the world she thinks is so funny.

She's loving.
Hugs and kisses, pats and squeezes, this girl loves to snuggle. Her enjoyment of snuggle time is nearly always at war with her urge to run wild, but she is almost always willing, even in the middle of the most raucous game, to throw a quick kiss your way if you beg. Then you are treated to an adorable damp pucker that delivers a squishy kiss. 

Feeding her Lambie a bottle
She's emphathetic.
Whether she's concerned each and every time she hears a baby crying, or she's worried to tears every time Elmo loses his blanket in Elmo in Grouchland, my daughter wants to make it better. Her cousin, Owen, gave her a small polar bear for her first Christmas. It's not her favorite toy, like it is his, but she definitely recognizes it as one of her toys. When we were all together for Thanksgiving, she found Owen's PB in his bed and took it thinking it was hers. When we explained why he was looking so concerned, that it was his version of her Lambie, she immediately made sure to give it back and brought it to him throughout the visit.
All the kids listening quietly to Santa
read a story? Nope, I'm definitely out.

She's headstrong.
She says no even when I'm pretty sure she actually means yes. She does what she wants and pays me no attention at all. It's clear she hears me, but you can see those wheels turning as she decides if my wishes align with hers. The answer is usually no. More than any other characteristic, I think this one delights my own mom the most. It seems I may be raising a mini-me. And most days I would say she's coming out ahead. As much as I might admire their control, I'm not one of those calm, talk-it-out-with-the-child-until-they-make-the-right-decision types; I'm a yeller. My tone is decidedly loud. I've made my nephew cry just by saying, "Oh no, don't eat that!" in what I considered to be a normal level of exclamation (seriously, it wasn't loud!) Eleanor remains unfazed through all my varying tones and decibels. Obviously there are problems with this. How am I going to get her attention and make her stop immediately when she's doing something dangerous? I'm not sure a deadly whisper is going to cut it. 

This railing is only about 10 ft off the ground
Watching the ants march up the tree trunk
She's adventurous.
She walks up to anyone and says hi to perfect strangers, loving the attention they give. While visiting a friend on the heart ward at the hospital, she would dart into the other rooms (we managed to catch her most of the time), trying to visit the other patients (missed her once, and we ended up visiting an elderly gentleman while he was eating his dinner. I said something awkward about hoping he would recover quickly and apologized, me somewhat mortified after we ran into a nurse on our way out-you always feel like people see uncontrollable children as a parental failing. Found out later from the friend we visited that the elderly man had loved it. Thank goodness.)
Sharing a book with Longfellow Bear

She loves books.
It is so amazing to have her interact with her books now. Not only is she (finally) relatively gentle with her lift the flap books, but she participates in the stories I read to her. She repeats lines from Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes (a family favorite), and she has a whole routine throughout Where the Wild Things Are. The Kissing Hand is in our rotation this week. Eleanor has me kiss her hand and she kisses mine, just like the mommy and baby raccoons do in the book. Makes my heart melt every time.
Giggling riotously in her toy basket

She sings at the top of her lungs.
It's true that this occurs most often when she should be napping peacefully in her crib, but sometimes I'm treated to her lyrics in the car on the way to or home from daycare. So far the tunes and words are pretty unidentifiable, but I love to hear her belting them out. Her current favorite is the Itsy Bitsy Spider, which she would happily listen to on repeat for our entire 20 minute car ride to daycare. The best I could do in negotiation was that we would listen to it every other song. She also meets her daddy at the door when he arrives home from work, demanding that he share his "nunes" with her. He always happily crouches down and hands her one of his earbuds so she can hear his tunes.