As a parent, a strict one at that, I do my best to try to control what my little girls are exposed to in their little worlds. For those of you who have your children with you all the time (no, not every second of every day, but every day at some point) you have the ability to do that to a certain extent. Imagine having them for half of that time, and as such, feeling like your ability to have even the tiniest control over their environment is limited…it’s enough to get me breathing in a paper bag.
Our little girls go to a home daycare in the mornings before school and sometimes in the afternoons after school. They take the devil’s transport, otherwise known as the school bus, to and from daycare to get to school. There are a couple other little girls at daycare with whom our little girls spend much of their time. Several months ago it became clear to me that my thoughts on parenting and the thoughts of the other little girls’ parents on parenting may not be the same.
When my oldest little girl came home singing “blame it on the al-al-al-al-al-alcohol” I realized there might be a problem. One little girl in particular tends to know the songs I would never ever allow my little girls to listen to, the websites we would never allow them to frequent, and the TV shows that would never be on in our home when we have the little girls with us.
In my mind, although never out loud, this one particular little girl has become the bane of my existence. Arrggg…WHY does she have to sing the REAL version of “California Girls” by Katy Perry when my little girls only know the KidzBop version?! Grrr…WHY does she have to sign my little girls up on this stupid website that I now have to prohibit them from using?! And seriously WHY is she so mean??? Ugh…a naughty girl in my little girls’ midst.
Then three things happened.
A for one. I was volunteering at the little girls’ school recently, wrapping up a project in the library during school hours, and I sensed a presence. I looked up and the little girl of whom I speak was standing in front of me. She was wringing her hands, blushing, smiling from ear to ear, and she hesitantly said “hi…hi…hi Carrie.” It was…it was precious. I mean just sweet and precious. I leaned down and said hello, asked what she was up to, and after a bit sent her on her way back to her classroom. Hmm…this was not behavior of a naughty little girl…this was behavior of a little girl who wanted desperately to be acknowledged by a woman she knows from outside of school.
B for two. The little girls and I were driving last week, jamming out to the soundtrack to the TV show “Victorious” (you’re so jealous of my music selection you can hardly stand it), and we had just come from our Valentine’s Day breakfast. Somehow we got on the topic of the little girl mentioned above and my oldest little girl started talking about how her Mom travels for work, in her words, “all the time.” Oooofff. And no offense to men, I live with a man who is a remarkable father, but there are days that he will be channel surfing and will stop on the Soprano’s when the girls are within earshot. You men, God love you, you’re just not as aware of what kids notice, hear, observe, and pick-up. This little girl is spending all of her time with her Dad, who I know is a good guy, but who probably thinks nothing of letting her listen to Top 40 radio because he probably doesn’t listen to the words of the songs.
C for three. Tonight the little girls and I were practicing spelling words. One of them had a list that has words such as elf and elves, wife and wives, life and lives, and so on. When we got to the word elf my oldest little girl told me that the little girl at daycare told them she is an elf. My little girls shook their heads like “here we go again with this little girl and her stories” and my heart just broke for her.
Primarily because when I was little I had a friend named Jenny. I can’t for the life of me remember her last name, otherwise I’d look her up on FB immediately, but I remember her face (filled with freckles), her hair (Peppermint Patty red), and how she walked when she was a girl, and how she walked when she was a unicorn. As you know (I’m assuming) people and unicorns? They do not walk in the same way.
So Jenny contended that she was, in fact, a unicorn. Not all the time, only sometimes, and for the most part when I wasn’t around. Jesus that pissed me off. I remember thinking, probably much less articulately, ‘Really?! You’re a unicorn when I’m not here or just HAPPEN to be facing the other direction?! I’m so sure.’ She was hell-bent on it, though, and I’m pretty sure she had convinced herself that there was some truth to it. When she was a unicorn and graced me with her presence as such, she walked toes first with her head held high, and she was…actually pretty graceful.
I was irritated on so many levels that even thinking about it now, while it mostly makes me sad, it also annoys the sh-t out of me. Okay, first of all, you’re damn right I was jealous! I was an only child damn it…if anyone could use some mythical unicorn world it was me for Christ’s sake. Second of all, I mean COME. ON. Unicorns? I don’t think so. But…BUT…third of all, she had the entire world figured out in her mind. The chain of royalty, where she fit into that org chart, what places looked like, and would tell extensive stories about it. It was SO COOL and yet SO F-CKING ANNOYING.
Both of us had single Moms. We met at latch-key and spent at least one summer together, making up stories on the black top, and much of it revolved around this world she’d created. She had a Dad around and, in retrospect, I think she was just completely desperate for his attention and adoration. I remember her telling me that he would get angry when she would mention her unicorn world. She thought, or at least said she thought, it was because he couldn’t see her horn or the other unicorns and was jealous. I assume now that he was annoyed that she never admitted it was make-believe. She was committed to it like nothing I’d ever experienced before meeting her or since.
So if as an adult I can look back and fully understand where my little friend Jenny was coming from and why she likely put so much effort into this imaginary world…I need to check myself and think about why this little girl who attends daycare with my little girls behaves the way she does.
I want to run to her house right this very second and squeeze her and cover her cute little face with kisses.
I said to the little girls “she says she’s an elf?” They nodded and my oldest little girl rolled her eyes. I said “I used to have a friend who told me she was a unicorn but that I just couldn’t see her unicorn friends when they surrounded me on the playground.” The little girls looked at me with wide eyes and expressions made up both of disbelief and wonder. I told them that she’d had one of the best imaginations I’d ever known anyone to have. And that I used to love to use my imagination. I listed some of the things I used to make-believe (I may have left out the part about the stop sign boyfriend). Then they started telling me what they like to pretend. I told them I didn’t believe you could be truly smart or wise without a very big and active imagination.
In the real world, with adults, I usually have the wherewithal to understand that people are usually only awful when they are going through some very rough times themselves. In most cases I can step back and cut people slack because life isn’t easy and all of us have our own sh-t to deal with. When dealing with the little girls, however, I have such high standards for the people with whom they interact. I hadn’t realized it, but apparently my crazy high standards were extended to the seven and eight year olds with whom they spend time also. I have been bummed out they’ve had to deal with this little girl for a while and have never given any thought to why she behaves the way she does. Shame on me.
TODAY: What if I remember that we all struggle in our own ways…including the children with whom my little girls spend time? What if I do everything I possibly can to add light to the lives of children who may not have ideal home situations? And what if I raise my little girls to be kind to those who are sometimes challenging to understand?