Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Henry Has Good Eyesight

The other day, Henry told Sam, "Let me look. I have good eyesight." Hank said, "Did he just say that?" Henry is not quite four years old. But he definitely did say that. He got it from us. When he sees something far away, or finds something small, we tell him he has good eyesight.

This was actually a scary thing for me to hear. He may or may not have good eyesight. He has never been checked by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. We've never had a reason to take him to one. His eyesight does not seem to be an issue. Sam's doesn't seem to be an issue. They may have equally good eyesight. Or maybe Sam's is better than Henry's. Or maybe Henry's is better than Sam's. I don't know and it doesn't matter. What matters is that we told Henry he has good eyesight. And he believed it and remembered it.

I've always heard that you never call your kids names or they believe it. You never say they're "stupid" because they will believe they're stupid. That word is absolutely off limits in our house. The thought of my kids calling each other such an ugly thing, or worse yet, thinking they are, is horrible to me. While I believe it can happen, it hasn't seemed very real. Until Henry said he had good eyesight.

Henry doesn't know what good eyesight is compared to bad. He knows it means he is good at seeing things. But he has no reason to believe it except that he has heard us say it. And that is scary. I know for a fact that I have never called him stupid, ugly, cowardly, or weak. But what about ridiculous, selfish, deceitful, careless, and rude? What about implying that he is naughty, thoughtless, or slow? When I tell him he's made a bad decision, what is he hearing? When I ask him why he would "do something like that" how is he seeing himself? When I'm frustrated because he's moving at a snail's pace, what does he think I'm telling him?

It seems like everything I say or think is damaging. He lies, hits his brother, coerces, he's loud, he's at that age where he doesn't understand how jokes work and thinks silly is the same thing as funny. He screams. he cries at the drop of a hat. He's infuriating. He's three.

The way I respond, though, is what will stay with him.

We know they learn language from us. It's apparent when he says, "What the eff?" in the elevator for no apparent reason. That was me. When he's in the backseat saying, "Mother effer, mother eff," that's Hank. (Why can't we think of anything other than alternative swear words?) The other day he ran into his room and slammed the door yelling, "You're a booty butt and you're HORRIBLE!" Booty butt is Sam. Horrible? Not sure. He starts a lot of sentences, with "Well..." with my same inflection. Sam says, "I ca-han't." That's me. But the stuff that he thinks about himself rarely comes out.

It's difficult to put these thoughts into words, only because it's painful. In writing it, I realize that I have many times said, "You're being ridiculous." Well, he is. I haven't heard him call Sam selfish or tell someone that he is thoughtless, in the same way his eyesight is good, but that doesn't mean it's not in there.

Peggy O'Mara, publisher and editor of Mothering Magazine said, "The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice." How scary. I always thought because I had cut certain words that were absolutely taboo, that I was on the right track. But I cringe to think of the things I have said or implied at such an impressionable age.

If you have young children, you know that nothing can make you more angry than an unreasonable toddler except maybe an ex-husband. Maybe you don't have a toddler yet, and you look down at your sweet baby knowing she will NEVER be that way. And you will NEVER lose your temper at your little angel. I laugh in your face. I only have toddlers, I have yet to experience awkward 9 year olds, obnoxious pre-teens, and independent teenagers.

All I know is that when I send them to bed crying, I feel pain because I remember what that feels like, and it's the worst. Or when I yell at them, I think of how that might feel to them, because I DON'T remember that. I don't remember either of my parents losing control and yelling at me like I have so many times. At BABIES. I have lost control and yelled at BABIES. I know that I am a big, unpredictable person to them. They never know when I am at the end of my rope. They don't remember all the rules all the time. They don't know what thing is going to send me over the edge.

I know I can't be perfect. I didn't make my own baby food. I don't juice that often. I don't spend a lot of time with them one-on-one, or remember to be positive. I don't always follow up anger with kindness. They are watching TV right now because I don't want to deal with them. I rejoiced instead of crying when they started school.

Sometimes I wonder how I could become a parent without a realistic understanding of what it would be like. My only solace is that Henry has said things like, "I have good eyesight" and has not said things like, "I move at a snail's pace." I want to be a better mother. I'm not talking about being a pinterest kind of mom. with pinterest bedrooms, craft ideas and birthday parties. We are having facebook friends only to a spaghetti dinner for Henry's birthday because I'm too lazy to send invitations, but have enough in me to create a facebook event. I'm okay with that while he's still in preschool.

I'm talking about the stuff that counts. Does he feel loved? Does he know I will love him no matter what? Does he know I will always make sure his needs are met? I'm not sure he does. And I'm trying, I really am, but I'm falling so short that I'm afraid it won't be enough.