When you have a new baby, one thing people love to do is talk to you about who the baby looks like. “Wow, she is a mini you!” “Oh, my Gosh, she looks exactly like Shawn.” “Is that Grandma Dana’s chin or what?” And with my own little people, I can get even more detailed in my comparisons: Her eye color is mine. Her eye shape, Shawn’s. Eyelashes (unfortunately for me), Shawn’s. Eyebrows, mine. Evil stare, 100% Shawn’s.
This game is all fun, especially at family gatherings, because what’s not to love about seeing your very own best - or even worst - features smiling back at you in cherub baby perfection. It’s when we take it to the next level that it’s not so fun, especially with the older ones. My five-year-old can not sit still. She has to do everything, all at once, at full speed. Never a moment’s rest. Hmmm....that sounds familiar. The seven-year-old is getting a little preoccupied with money these days. That’s fine for determining what’s okay for his Christmas List or the value of his new baseball card collection but not exactly thrilling when he announces how much his new winter coat cost. (I drew the line, Shawn, when he asked how much we spent on our home addition. That’s all you.) The three-year old, whom I sometimes refer to as “Officer,” loves enforcing the rules, just like her rule-following mom. Even the baby crinkles her little forehead in such a way that seems pensive, dare I say, just like her strong, silent dad.
When we were at parent-teacher conferences last week, the teachers had pretty much glowing reviews of our children (shocking, I know), but my first-grader’s sweet teacher nicely mentioned that our son may not have the best sense of direction. As she told a story about his getting lost three days in a row on the same “messenger” errand, I started slinking lower in my chair. Ouch, that one is all me!
And oddly enough, it’s not only the just-like-me stuff that’s sometimes hard to hear, it’s the opposite too. When my kindergartener was three, she said the goofiest things. Not only was “little” "yittle” but “other” was “oven.” While that was more cute that troubling, her terrible grammar was sometimes impossible to bear. She’d say things like, “Is her coming to us’s house?” and Shawn and I would cringe. Being both English majors, such abuse of our beloved language was excruciating to hear. Sometimes it seemed almost as if Someone was having a good chuckle out of torturing us.
But there’s something wrong with seeing our little ones as outward projections of ourselves. Be it as manifestations of our worst features, embodiments of our best talents (hey, maybe this time we will make it to the major leagues!) or those in-your-face ironic traits, I have to remember that our children are individuals, not just extensions of ourselves. They are not punishments for being hard-to-handle children ourselves (ahem, Dad!) or rewards for working hard and being good. They were not given to us in order to help us work out our own issues, but entrusted to us so we can use our past experience to help guide them towards being the best versions of themselves.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, I caught up on one of my favorite shows, Modern Family. I have to admit I see a lot of myself in the character Clare. While she is lovable in her way, she is certainly a control freak mother (and wife, and sister...) who thinks she’s been put on this earth to “fix” the people she loves. Her sometimes disastrous methods are almost always forgivable because she clearly loves her family and is doing what she thinks best. That said, I think I’d do well to be more like Gloria (no, Shawn, I did not say, “look more like Gloria,” but I can see how you got that.) Gloria is one of those mother bear types who’s fiercely protective of her son. What I love about her character is she will defend him to anyone, anytime. She loves him because of who he is (idiosyncrasies and all!), not in spite of his goofy personality.
This week (in addition to watching too much TV and trying to find deeper meaning in silly sitcoms) I’ve been contemplating all the reasons I have to be grateful. My beautiful children certainly top the list. And I owe it to them to do better. That said, I am determined to start doing something very difficult for me: I’m going to try not to see my children’s idiosyncrasies as reasons for worry, things to fix - be it because I don’t want them to be teased or to fail - or be it because I can’t bear to see my own traits reflected back at me in uncensored miniature. I am going to love - and embrace them - for who they are, not in spite of it. At least I will try my best. And while I’m certainly not looking for any gratitude in return, can I help but think that once upon a time a little girl would have said, “Wanks for loving me yist the way I am.” I hope it’s not too late to show her - all of them - that I do.