More About Why Than What
“Can you tell me a story about when you were a kid? A good one. With a lot of detail.”
She’s been asking about who I was as a kid a lot lately. Maybe because every time she falls, I tell her a story of some time that I fell, or my brother broke his elbow, or my dad fell off his bike. She’s growing and falling a lot lately. She’s also cartwheeling through the house, because it just snowed in April. COOL THANKS WINTERSPRING.
“What do you think a 12-year-old thinks about being responsible?”
“I think sometimes they need to be responsible and they choose to be responsible and sometimes they choose not to be. Sometimes it’s opposite because when they need to be responsible they might not be and when they don’t need to be, they might be responsible.”
“How could a 12-year-old be responsible?”
“By doing all their hard homework.”
“What do you think a 12-year-old thinks about drinking alcohol?”
“I think they think they can’t drink it in school. I don’t think they want to drink it yet.”
“What do you think I was like as a kid? Do you think I followed rules? Do you think I was a good listener in school?”
“I think you did follow rules. I think you were a kind of good listener in school. I think you drew beautiful pictures and did very well with your work.”
“Do you think I wanted to be a parent?”
“Yeah. Did you?”
“Yes. I did. I always wanted to be a parent. What do you think you’re going to be like when you’re 12?”
“I think I’m going to be a great listener and kind of scared of college.”
“Do you think you’ll be responsible when you’re 12?”
“Yeah! I’m going to follow the rules.”
25 years ago, I was 12. I followed the rules, but pushed limits hard. I don’t know if I pushed and asked all the questions because that’s what happens when you start to grow up and become who you are ]or if getting settled in a new (Catholic) school (as a non-practicing Protestant) had anything or everything to do with it. Because as a 6th grader, I spent a lot of time asking questions and saved my introspection for future parent blogging.
At 12, right and wrong was blurry and complicated and friends were mean and I was mean and I was learning French and memorizing how to pray the rosary and had to dress up as a saint at school one day. We went to mass and learned about confession and why wasn’t anyone asking any questions? We went to camp for a week and I fell off the top bunk and landed on my head and threw up and they asked me what my name was. I remember thinking, “It’s so weird to have someone ask your name when they already know you.” My future parent blogging introspection possibly began with that first concussion.
Soon after, I fell hard into the Jesus hole where everything was clear and right was right and wrong was wrong and being responsible was just following a set of rules and teaching anyone who would listen (or you know, wouldn’t). When I came out and was kicked out of the church, their right didn’t feel so right anymore.
I knew I’d be a parent, but not like this. I didn’t know that one of the first things I’d teach my kid is, “Your body, your rules!” when she started dressing herself at age 2 and decides what new foods to taste at dinner. Then “Different families, different rules!” became the standard for “it’s not fair that (insert friend’s name here) has (insert screen time/clothes/toys/vacations/piles of ponies here).” I didn’t know that our rules would be more about why than what. That good vs. bad doesn’t really work. That there’s stuff like context and perspective and experience that bring us right back where we started. That it’s all a bit blurry and complicated, just like when I was 12. That it’s a lot more about why are we doing this? and what does it all mean? I didn’t know that when I mentioned tonight that I’m almost out of beer, my 6-year-old would remind me from the other room that drinking a lot of beer isn’t good for anyone, that all bodies have alcohol limits, not just kids who can’t have any because they’re small.
Because 25 years later, I’m a parent who doesn’t always wait for my kid to ask the hard questions. I start conversations. I ask her what she thinks. And thankfully, I’m a much better listener than I was at 12. I know that stories matter. She knows that too. Because hearing my stories and knowing where I’ve been gives her a lot of the why of who I am and the why of how she’s parented. Because responsibility starts with me quite literally as a parent. And she really likes hearing about the time I crashed my bike into a mailbox.
This post is sponsored by Responsibility.org. I am working with them as a #TalkEarly blogger this year to help them “Empower parents to be confident about their own decisions regarding alcohol, model healthy, balanced behaviors, and create a foundation for starting conversations with their kids from an early age.” Let’s all do that. Because that totally rules.