We all know the poem, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” where we learned that the basics of sharing, washing your hands and cleaning up after ourselves were taught to us early in life. But lately, I’m realizing that my 4-year-old is learning some pretty important lessons before she has hit that milestone. In the process, she has taught me a thing or two about debunking myths, letting go of perfection and seeing the beauty in the a-symmetrical. Here are a few of those lessons.
When you love, you’re never alone. To be honest, I used to worry about Maya being alone because she’s an only child. As the younger of two children, I always had my older sister to play with, or nag, whenever I wanted. Ironically, I’m married to an only child and many of my closest friends are only children. Somehow though, those myths of only children being selfish and incapable of being empathic got lodged into my brain. I didn’t want Maya to fall into one of those myths, as if children with siblings were superior somehow and didn’t have myths of their own.
Then, the other day after preschool, I watched Maya line up a group of her stuffed animals, grab a chair and began reading one of her favorite books to them. Of course, she didn’t know the words, but she told a delightful story about a little girl and her friends who went to a park to play. She smiled and lovingly looked at each animal as she read the story. It didn’t matter to her that they weren’t real. It didn’t matter that they couldn’t talk or move around like real kids. All that mattered was that they were her friends and she was their friend. She was not alone. All those fears I had suddenly diminished because I realized that while she may not have a little brother or sister around, she could share and love just like any other kid, and perhaps even more so.
Accidents happen, even to parents. Maya asked me to color a picture with her in one of her favorite coloring books the other night after dinner. I was coloring a dog with a blue marker when I accidently went “over the line” and got the blue mixed in with the pink nose I colored a few minutes earlier. I immediately stopped and said, “Oh uh. I went over the line, Maya. I’m sorry.” I sat and waited for my punishment. After all, parents know better than to go over the lines, right? Aren’t we supposed to show our children the right way to do things?
To my surprise, she said without hesitation, “That’s OK, mommy. As long as you didn’t mean do it. ccidents happen.” I about fell out of my chair. It’s taken me almost 39 years to understand this one life lesson. My parents weren’t perfectionists, but I inherited the gene somehow and had been striving for it since I can remember. In our quest for perfection, we can easily forget that we’re not perfect and, more importantly, never will be. Luckily, there are 4 ½-year-olds around to share this wisdom with us on a regular basis.
Embrace perfection within the imperfection. One of our holiday traditions is to avoid the shopping crowds and put up decorations over the Thanksgiving weekend. This year, Maya got to decorate her very own, and very pink, Christmas tree. I watched in awe as she carefully placed each of her ornaments and the gold ribbon around the tree, talking to herself as if rationalizing each step she made in the decorating process. The finishing touches included a piece of gold garland from Grandma’s tree and a piece of blue ribbon from our tree that lay ever so gently at the top and middle of her tree. I imagined her as an artist, wearing a purple beret and using her best French accent as she spoke. With her head tilted to one side, she would step back, put her index finger over her mouth and then shout, “No, no, it needs more, more I say!”
As she finished her masterpiece, she looked at me and said, “Mommy, isn’t it beautiful!” I said, “It sure is,” even though its little imperfections were bringing out the control freak in me. All I wanted to do was to fix it so each side was even and symmetrical. I kept telling myself, “If I could just move this ornament here and that ornament over there, her tree would then be perfect.” That afternoon when Maya was taking her nap, I walked over to the tree and planned to fix it. Luckily, the mommy inside punched the control freak right out of me as I suddenly remembered the joy that this imperfect tree gave my daughter. She was so proud of her creation. How could I mess with that? How could I explain to her that her joy was unwarranted because it wasn’t symmetrical? I now understand what people mean when they say embrace perfection within the imperfection and have no plans to change anything about that magnificent tree.
While I may never completely let go of my inner control freak, my daughter is teaching me that there is a time and place for it. I can only imagine what other lessons she has in store for me as she grows older.
Sound familiar? What life lessons are you learning from your children?