Discovering You, Discovering Me

When I was younger I loved to color in coloring books. It was one of the few things I actually did carefully. I selected the colors I would use before I started. I traced the black outlines thickly, to ensure that I would stay within the lines. I shaded my pictures evenly, almost expertly, at least for a child working in Crayola. I was so particular that I would finish off each masterpiece by rubbing the crayon wax with a tissue until the colors were smooth and shiny. It was ART, and I took it seriously.

So when my older daughter was about 2 years old and she excitedly encountered her first coloring book in the dollar aisle of our local big box store, I was thrilled. I bought it with a new box of beautiful, unbroken crayons – one of my favorite things ever — and hurried home.

But things didn’t go the way I expected them to. My daughter’s initial excitement had been stoked by the full color pictures of Elmo featured on the front. The black and white interior was a letdown. Her interest was revived by the stickers she found inside, but it only took her about 30 seconds to plaster them on her arms and face before she was ready to move on.

At the time, I chalked it up to her age. Two is pretty young for artistic endeavors, after all. But three years have gone by and her interest in coloring books has remained pretty much the same, something that, for a long time, I found confusing.

Because this kid loves to draw. She loves to draw so much that a bucket of markers and a stack of computer paper have a permanent home on our kitchen table. Inspiration for a new picture can strike her at any time; one must be prepared. She draws at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She often deserts her toys mid-game, struck with the idea for another picture.  She draws pictures of the stories she makes up throughout the day, and everything she draws, from people to raindrops, has a purpose or an explanation.

The fact that she is so artistic but yet is so little engaged by an artistic activity I always enjoyed mystified me. Until a few weeks ago, when she made the obvious answer clear to me.

She was sitting at the table, drawing as usual, when she stopped and said —

“Mommy, I’m drawing my world. Everyone has a world. This is mine.”

It hit me like a shove in the chest. Of course the kid doesn’t want to color someone else’s pictures in someone else’s book. She wants to make her own pictures, for her own book – for her own world.

***

The I Love You House

The I Love You House

It’s funny how much we parents want to see ourselves in our children. We yearn for that because when we see ourselves in them it signifies that we are as much a part of them as they are a part of us. And they are a part of us. They enter our hearts and our hearts can never part with them again.

But they don’t belong to us. And they aren’t us. When we think we see our quirks reflected in our child – we’re wrong. What we see is wholly, uniquely our child, a person who has never existed before and will never exist in another context ever again.

Looking for ourselves in our children is a mistake parents will probably always make. When you create something as miraculous as a human, and when your love for that creation is as deep as a parent’s love is for her child, it’s inescapable. It will cause conflict between ourselves and our children, just like it did between us and our own parents.

But it will be OK, just like it always has been, as long as we are listening when our children tell us that they are coloring their own pictures, for their own world.

 

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, “Speak to us of Children.”
And he said: Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. ~ Khalil Gibran, On Children

Of Cabbages and Kings

Nearly six years ago my cousin and I became pregnant at virtually the same time with our first children. We had been best friends — sisters, almost — since I was adopted into our family when I was six weeks old and she was seven months old. By the time we were married, we had been together through life’s most important moments, from slumber parties in my basement, to those first awkward preteen dances, to the deaths of my mom and her dad of cancer. She was the maid of honor at my wedding, just like I was at hers. So embarking on motherhood together seemed only natural.

When we found out we were pregnant, we starting talking daily, by email and by phone, sharing every detail of that miraculous new experience just like we had shared everything else from the time we were babies.

Mostly we talked about digestion and bladder control. We talked a lot about our bellies, gleefully marking their progress as they inflated into cute little bumps, then observing with mutual dismay and trepidation as those bumps began to spread in all directions, taking over our bodies and, in many ways, our identities. When we weren’t focused on the gross underpinnings of pregnancy we touched on the deeper stuff, like the terrible, overwhelming responsibility we were taking on and our dreams for the beautiful, brilliant, powerful girls we hoped to raise.

Our daughters were born 15 hours apart. Mine came in the evening, and hers came the following morning. Our conversations continued, but we stopped talking about our bodies and started talking about our babies. The topic we discussed the most was still digestion, but not our own. We called each other on the phone every single morning between 9:00 and 9:15, and it was because of those phone calls that we made it through our first year of motherhood.

The things we talked about were things that women have talked about for as long as we could communicate with one another. We had no earth-shattering insights. Our pregnancy-era emails may have provided a few NSA agents with a little amusement — and probably some measure of disgust — but beyond that our conversations contributed little to the enlightenment of humanity. In a word, they were mundane.

Except that they weren’t. For us, those conversations were life-changing. They deepened old bonds, which had been created before we were even aware of ourselves as individuals, and formed new ones. Our conversations filled in spaces that we didn’t even know we had. They may not have elevated humanity, but they elevated us.

And as I became aware of those newly-filled spaces, a thought that had been lingering in the back of my mind for many years came to the forefront: when women come together, without fear or self doubt or competition getting in the way, we connect. We empower one another, not just to do amazing things, but to be more complete versions of ourselves. When we are listening to each other, we have the ability to cross vast divides to meet each other in fellow feeling. We are strengthened and improved through each other. And more importantly, we accomplish these things with no special effort, through our ordinary, every day conversations.

So every conversation we have with one another, whether it be about our greatest hopes and deepest fears or about the contents of our children’s diapers, we are supporting, affirming, changing each other.

Not so mundane after all, I suppose.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”*

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There
*For my literary-minded readers — yes, I am taking liberties with this quote.