Sunday, August 30, 2009

An open letter to a kindergartner

Dear Ittybit,

The summer is scooting by.

I hadn’t been paying attention as most mornings have been encased in a cold crust and me in the desire to stay under the winter covers. The down comforter on my bed has been employed for a fourth season instead of stowed, and there are days I think I could employ another part time.

You never seem to notice the weather. You seem impervious to its grasp. Only when the possibilities of cooling ice cream or warming cocoa are in the offering do you pay it any mind.

But the heat arrived, finally, and with it the breathless realization of humidity and humility: School will start for you and with it comes a whole new life for all of us.

Not that we ever took off mid-week to go berry picking or to climb a hill and peer off its apex, the potential to just get away is monitored now by many someones else … principals and teachers and so forth. The eyes of the state will be fully upon us now that you will have to attend and be counted.

Not that I am particularly worried about Big Brother, although often I think I should be more concerned.

I know you will be brilliant. I know you will rise to any height you might want to reach.

As any mother does, I worry that others won’t understand you or that they’ll hurt your feelings. I worry that you will lose the confidence and the fearlessness you’ve shown to my ever growing amazement.

As most mothers do, I look for comparisons. I measure my untrained observation of you against my untrained observation of others.

I look around at girls your age and, still, you stand out to me. Your wit your perceptions your calm, measured approach to investigating new things all strike me as unique, though I know all mothers must see this in their children. All mothers marvel. It’s what we do.

We also doubt and get defensive. We project our tepid experiences and lie in wait for their return. I am awake late at night wondering about all the things I will not be able to control all the things I should not try to control.

I tell myself that my job is not to fix things for you, but to show you how to fix them for yourself. It is also teaching you how to accept and move on when what is broken seems beyond repair. My mission is to let you attempt lost causes in the hope that you will fix the unfixable: Mission impossible.

I was reminded of all of this as I tried to keep your brother from raiding the cake plates at a birthday party while you girls sat in a circle playing "pass the present."

The object of the game was to pass a gift among you until the music stopped. The girl holding the package would carefully unwrap it, revealing another layer of pretty paper. I listened as the music played and stopped three times. The giggling became quiet and nervous. One girl was saying how she never won anything. Another agreed.

I found myself looking in any direction but where the laughter was keeping time with the tune. I just couldn’t watch.

I didn’t want you to lose. But I didn’t want you to win, either.

That is my dilemma.

What to do?

While in Maine earlier this summer, I had an opportunity to take a surfing lesson for mothers and instead of happily rushing into the water I stood back, angry and indignant. The only reason I felt compelled to do this, I raged, was to prove myself to you, who would be standing in the sand, cheering me on.

It wasn’t proving anything to me.

I have no interest in surfing. I have less interest in balancing on a wave or wearing the seal-like suit that would keep me somewhat warm in the chill of an Atlantic morning. I said I would go through gritted teeth. I’d committed to looking like a fool and envisioned myself chasing a board through the waves.

As I stood by the surfshop counter, looking in any direction but the clerk, I almost didn’t hear her ask for the registration I didn’t have.

Face saved by reservations I didn’t have, but ego bruised with the reservations I did have.

What to do?

I want to calm the waves of this growing storm to remind you that life does seem unfair at times that you will feel the sharp words of others digging into the soft flesh of your innocent chatter. But you will, in turn, undoubtedly plunge your indignation into some poor soul’s inner core, and you will be the guilty party.

But what is life but a series of highs and lows an exploration into the unknown?

And I remind myself that my job isn’t to calm the waves it’s to help you learn to ride them.

Love and reservations,

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