Even people, and surprisingly, they do things not quite like other people would do them, which makes them both beautiful and preposterous.
Like this conversation in my morning: “Eliot, before we leave, do you need a snack like raisins or grapes?” (Yes, I know they’re essentially the same thing and it’s a little bit of a trick to offer both, but as long as they don’t know that, they don’t care. So don’t tell them because those two things are two staples of our house and I can’t give up either one.)
“No, Mama. I don’t like raisins or grapes.” (He ate both in giant gobs yesterday, but today is a new day, apparently.) “I don’t want a snack.”
“Ok. Then do you want cars to play with on the drive?”
“No, Mama, I play with this camera instead.”
Ok. Get in car, get buckled up, pull out of driveway. Ninety seconds pass.
Tiny sobs begin. “……….but I’m hungry!!!!!”
“Ok, baby, remember I didn’t grab a snack because you didn’t want one? Can you look out the window instead, or play with your camera?”
Ninety seconds pass.
“Ok, Mama, I want cars now!” Cheerfully, never expecting a disappointment.
“Ok, Eliot, I can’t reach them for you right now because I’m driving. You need to play with your camera. I can’t help you right now.”
One minute passes.
“I need help, Mom!!!!”
And it’s the things like this that really get to us, isn’t it? It’s moments like then when everything rises up in us and our eyesight closes in a little because WE ASKED. WE TRIED. WE WENT THROUGH THE OPTIONS. I know these symptoms and these thoughts well. And when the vision is closing in and our hands clench, we like to label it not listening and not understanding timelines and constant neediness and imposition, because that’s how it feels to us, and often it feels more real than anything else we’ve ever felt. (As my friend said, ‘I never thought I was an impatient person until I had kids.’)
We can call it all those things and a few more besides, but is this really the real problem why we get annoyed? That they need more from us then we can give? Or is the actual root of the problem that they haven’t learned the rules of reality yet? Because I think this is actually what we get upset about most of the time: that they haven’t learned that things take time and energy and space and not everything can be done at once.
Because for them it’s the all-encompassing belief that the adult has always what they need, can always get what they need no matter the time or place, and an unconquerable cheerfulness and optimism that what they need is there with just a bit more effort and everything good is within reach of their little fingertips.
Their possibilities are not constrained by petty things like not being in the right place or someone else being tired or busy. And when you think about this, when you put it like that, and think that the job of being a parent is bring your children into reality so that they know the rules, doesn’t it sound like a dreary and dull and mundane job?
Because there are rules of life: if we reach back when driving, we might crash. If you refuse food when it’s there, it might not be there next time. If you say you want something now, you might have to keep holding it after you wish it were gone.
These lessons need to be learned. Life doesn’t just provide things when we need them. Things that we need cost something. People aren’t limitless.
But perhaps, just a moment, just a few days, or for maybe a few years, it means we can enter into their reality; where people are always there when they need them and snacks are endless and drivers have long enough arms to reach the cars piled under the seats.
Because all things begin little with only their finger long feet to hold them down, and it’s not quite enough to keep them in reality. They float up a bit when we’re not looking sometimes, but before too long, no matter what we do, their gravity will grow strong enough to keep them earth bound. Just like us.