We were walking through a crowded grocery store, my 6-year-old boy at my side. He was bopping to whatever tune he was humming from music class, happy, just being him. “Being him” sometimes means breaking into superhero character, casually throwing an invisible shield across the room, or striking a hands-on-hips stance for no apparent reason. “Being him” also means happily dancing and skipping and running — being in his body.
I looked behind and saw he was lagging, lost in his song, grooving along … slowly. It brought me back to when I was little, probably his age, and I’d twirl and tap dance down the aisles of stores. I have such vivid memories of the shiny white floor of the supermarket reflecting bright spots of fluorescent light. I remember how slippery and clean it looked, how empty the aisles were. And I remember dancing down them, at my mother’s side. My mom never liked my dancing. There was a time and a place, and the grocery store wasn’t it. I remember thinking that it wasn’t a big deal; I wasn’t bothering anyone.
Even still, I pulled him close and said, “We’re in a grocery store, there are a lot of people here. We need to respect their space. Please stop and just walk.” (My mind flashed to my mom saying, “Do you see anyone else dancing here, Michelle? Anyone? This is a grocery store, not a dance class. Stop.”)
To be fair, he really wasn’t hurting anyone. He wasn’t karate-chopping bags of bread to the ground or running through the aisles screaming; he was just wiggling and singing. He hadn’t accidentally crashed into a cart — not yet. But the potential was there. And what would people think if he did bump into someone, or cause a jam-up of grocery carts, or act a little too silly for an elder person’s liking? Rather than let the lesson play out as it might, I stepped in for a scolding. Just in case.
“Oh Mommy, I’m a kid. Relax!” he said with a big smile, shrugging his shoulders up to his ears.
And the little girl in me nodded and relaxed.
If I lived like my child for a day, I would look in the mirror and see an impenetrable superhero staring back at me.
I’d have the best kind of confidence — the kind that’s never been questioned, never not been.
I wouldn’t save my favorite outfit for a special occasion, no way. I’d wear that bad boy all day, every day. I might even sleep in it, because why the heck not? I’d wear masks and made-up identities on the outside, where everyone can see them, rather than where most grown-ups wear them: on the inside, hidden, even from ourselves.
If I lived like my child for a day, I’d stop and watch a worm on the sidewalk before hurrying along. I’d do very little hurrying, in fact. Instead I’d notice the treasures waiting by my feet, the heart-shaped rocks and happy dandelions and fascinating clusters of ants. (“Look at all of these ants!” I might shriek to whoever was passing by. And then I’d watch the ants’ patterns, their routine, crouched with my chin in my hands. Everything else could wait.)
I’d look down more, be closer to the Earth.
I’d look up more, too. Up at the clouds — that fluffy parade of lion heads and dragons and jumping dolphins. I’d have more space in my head for the Big Questions: Why are we here? What’s going on? What’s the point of it all? I wouldn’t be ashamed to ask those questions, not to anyone.
If I lived like my child for a day, I’d be a Truth Teller. Not because it was my duty, but because it was my nature. No inhibitions. Pure vulnerability. If I needed to cry, well then that’s what I’d do — right in the middle of Sephora, if I had to. The filter between what I feel and what I say would be clean and unblocked. I’d just be.
I wasn’t prepared to learn so much from this new, small person. Perhaps I’d seen something like, “Your child is your greatest teacher” on my Pinterest feed, or in some new-age parenting book, and appreciated the poetic sentiment. But it goes beyond those expansive lessons — lessons that open our hearts, help us slow down, urge us to appreciate the small wonders. He also shows me my shadowy parts — my bossy and domineering tone, my impatience, my indignant attitude — mirrored right back to me, a real-life reenactment of my behavior and shortcomings.
My son shows me my potential — the light and the dark. He reminds me of my deepest nature. He teaches, without lecturing or preaching. He shows me things I didn’t ask to learn.
If I lived like my child for a day, I would struggle with a lot of the same issues I do now — anger, disappointment, body-crumbling sadness. But I’d also feel more connected to the playful creature inside me, I’d hold her close, I’d insist she has fun. FUN!
If I lived like my child for a day, I’d remember.
And I think I’d be a better mother because of it.More On