On my way to the grocery store the other day, I flipped on the radio just in time to hear the talk show host recite a poem by Kahlil Gibran called “On Children.”
As he spoke, I turned up the volume. And there I was, in the grocery store parking lot, wiping my eyes with a used, crusty, crumpled up Starbucks napkin.
One part in particular really stuck with me:
[Your children] come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
Oh sure, it made me weepy, but it also made me feel a bit smug and self-righteous. “Hooray for me! I’m a great parent because I already realize this. I’ll give Henri roots and wings!”
It was at this point that I needed an older woman to come along and tell me it ain’t as easy as it looks. Because just a few days later, during the playdate from hell, my toddler would put me to the challenge.
To be fair, perhaps the “hell” part is a bit of an overstatement. There weren’t any accidental fires and no zombies were raised from the dead. But one very out-of-control child running recklessly through my house was enough to frazzle my nerves and have me reaching for the martini shaker well before happy hour.
I tried to maintain a pleasant demeanor. When the demon child stole a toy or jumped on the couch, I explained that we don’t do that. But when he gave my son a full-on body slam, I felt my patience wear thinner than a store-brand diaper. I rushed to my son’s side and picked him up. He wasn’t crying; what a trooper! But wait. Not only was he not crying, he was actually laughing.
In that moment, I realized—I mean, actually grasped the idea for the first time– that my son really is own person. Before Henri even entered this world, his father and I discussed how, whatever path in life he would decide to take, we’d be okay with it. What if he decided to be a Republican? That would be fine. What if he wanted to become a plumber instead of going to college? We’d be behind him all the way. An atheist/pagan/Unitarian Universalist? His choice to make. A vegan? We could work through it. But those were all decisions that he’d make when he was an adult. We never once considered the choices he’d make as a child.
I was struck with a sudden fear of the unknown and endless questions. I have to accept that I have a son who came through me, but not from me. A child who has his own thoughts and personality. And happily, a boy who bounces back quickly when he’s knocked down.
The poem continues with more sage advice: “You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.” Perhaps I really should take a lesson from Henri and learn to laugh more, even when I get pushed down.
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