Last weekend our family went to see the Lego Movie. And although I was a bit distracted by Evie’s unsettled-ness, and her need to run up and down the aisle, I watched and observed as Emmett set off on his adventure. Unaware that the movie’s lesson was aimed squarely at me, I blissfully watched the Lego characters search for the “missing piece”.
While I exited the movie theater, my awareness of this parenting lesson began to sink in. Wasn’t I the same parent that Will Ferrell so artfully portrayed in the movie? Haven’t I been enforcing the same “rules and instructions” on my kids? Aren’t there two boxes of Legos sitting in the corner of Mason’s bedroom, right now, completely off limits to him?
As we walked in the door to my house, I asked Mason to find his Legos. I let him know that there were no longer going to be anymore “rules” on how to put Legos together and he could make whatever he wanted. Joyfully, he ran up the stairs and played, for hours, with his new found freedom.
If you read my blog post last week, it may have felt somewhat vague. But if I can explain with context, you will understand. We all have emotional baggage that we are carrying around; in many forms. Anytime we feel a tinge of anger at a person, or an annoyance at the world around us. Anytime we obsess over something, feel greed, pride, jealousy or the need to defend ourselves. All of these things are pointing to something inside of us that needs to be addressed.
Our intentions and motivations are little windows to the soul. When we observe them, and see them for what they are, we learn about ourselves. You see, Legos are just one of my examples to explain how my insecurities come alive.
The last time Mason and I played with Legos we opened the box, pulled out the instructions and organized the pieces. Step by step, we read and followed the directions until we created the Police Mobile Unit. I was in my zone; an 8-year old girl again, constructing this amazing creation out of hundreds of little pieces! Mason sat there, and twiddled his thumbs, as his mother so carefully created his Lego toy. While I experienced a surge of new found energy and looked at my project with pride, Mason’s anxiety grew as his mother cautioned him to be careful with his new toy. I held my breath every time he picked it up and even stored it in my bedroom so it wouldn’t get broken!
I don’t know about other moms, but I will speak for myself and say that when I sit down with my kids to complete an art project, I become an obsessed, competitive perfectionist. The 8-year old little girl inside me comes alive, just as she did back then, competing to win the most creative or perfect award. (Of course there is no such thing as a perfect award, but I would still like to try and achieve it!) So why am I surprised when Tilley and Mason compare and contrast their projects, arguing over whose is better, prettier or more creative?
You see the Legos are just a physical representation of my insecurities. When Mason opens a box of Legos, I get anxiety. He mixes the pieces together, loses some, he separates the instructions from the box and starts putting them together whatever way he wants. Okay, first of all, do you know how annoying it is to look for that one missing Lego piece? Mason’s fearless approach to Lego building represents everything that pushes my buttons. He is out of control, messy, and doesn’t follow instructions. It triggers something in me and is the reason his two boxes of Legos sat there for months, collecting dust, in the corner of his room. Now, although I do so unintentionally, I am (sadly) stuffing my son full of anxieties and transferring my emotional baggage to him.
This whole situation reminds me of when the kids had this project, last year, in Kindergarten. The teachers scheduled a few sessions, in the middle of the day, to inform parents about the project. Since I am a working mom, I decided, instead, to ask for the Cliff notes version as I dropped off the kids that morning. The teacher handed me two pieces of wood, one for Tilley & Mason. I was to “secretly” bring it home and surprise them with it. She showed me some examples of how we could decorate the board with stickers and paint. Her examples were elaborate. We were supposed to decorate them with anything that the kids cared about.
The Sunday night before the project was due; I pulled out the boards for the kids to decorate. Instead of being my usual self and going overboard on art supplies, I decided to dig into my supply bins, and pull out some markers and stickers that we already had. Those teacher examples had been way over the top anyway. We didn’t need fancy stickers to have fun with this project!
I restrained myself from wanting to step in; that tendency of the perfectionist normally takes over anytime the kids have a project. Instead, I just watched and enjoyed as they happily decorated their boards with the stickers and supplies they had been given.
On the day of the presentation, the parents were to be in the classroom midday, and Derek and I took time off of work to be there. I had been looking forward to it all week. The teacher asked the parents to come up one-by-one with their kids to present their boards. Slightly confused, I let other parents volunteer before me, so I could just observe.
The first mother came to the front of the classroom, pulled out her board, and read from a letter she wrote to her child. Shifting uncomfortably in my chair, I realized that I misunderstood the assignment. This project was for the mothers to complete and present to their child. Horrified, I looked for the closest exit! I wasn’t really going to leave, but I really wanted to curl up in my chair and die. Derek was confused, and asked me what was wrong. I explained the situation, but he told me to just relax, it was no big deal.
As I watched the mothers, one by one, present their boards to their children, my anxiety grew. Each board was better than the next. These parents took time and energy to create their boards for their kids. Some were fully painted, and decorated with expensive scrapbook stickers; some even had been strung with ribbon so the child could hang it on their bedroom wall! Mine looked like they had been put together with duct tape and feathers. I was humiliated!!!
I sat there; furious with myself, and furious about the project. I was so distracted with my life, my work, that I didn’t understand the simplest instructions. I felt regret that, amongst this circle of moms, I didn’t have any close friends (yet) that could have clued me in to the assignment. Right there, all at once, it became overwhelming; my regrets, insecurities, anxieties… looking at me squarely in the face, everyone could see it, my greatest fear coming true that I WAS A TERRIBLE MOM!
Finally, the last parents to volunteer, Derek, the kids and I walked to the front of the room and took our seats in the little chairs. I told a story about how we named the kids, and how during Mason’s adoption, Tilley had (surprise!) graced us with her presence. I said a lot of stuff, most of it forgettable by now, but what I do remember was the way the kid’s smiled as I spoke in their classroom. The way they held their boards up, with pride, and happily displayed it for all of their friends.
You see, my kids won’t remember that we did the assignment wrong. In fact, they didn’t notice anything was wrong that day. What they will remember was how mom let them have fun decorating their boards. And how both mommy & daddy came to support them on this day, and spoke in front of their classroom, to their friends and teachers.
Looking back now, does it matter that I didn’t put my heart and soul into that silly little board? Anyway, if I had understood the directions, that board would have been just another one of my endless pursuits of unachievable perfection. Instead, a blessing in disguise, this project taught me a lot about myself. I have been forced to reflect on my own insecurities of failure and why (WHY?!) I equated not understanding the assignment with being a bad mom.
Of course, I know that these things don’t really make me a “bad mom”. And what does it mean to be a “good mom” anyway? I have given this topic some thought, and although I don’t think that I have everything figured out, I think that really “good moms” do three things well. I am sure there are more, but stay with me for a minute…
- We let our children be who they are. We do not try to control or direct who our child will turn out to be. We do not think that our child is an extension of ourselves, but rather that they are their own person. As parents, we of course can provide good soil, sunlight and water, but whether they turn out to be a palm or a pine tree has nothing to do with us. It’s only our job to accept them as they are.
- We give them unconditional love, and at all times. (Key word: unconditional) We should not put conditions on our love, understanding, support, encouragement, advice, or just a shoulder to cry on. Although this seems obvious and somewhat simple, if you ever attach a condition to anything, then this by definition is NOT unconditional. (Warning: many blog posts will stem from this one!)
- We restrain ourselves from passing down all of our fears, baggage and insecurities. We refrain from making the subtle comments, sharing our all too obvious anxieties, so that these things don’t trickle down for them into their adulthood. This is much easier said than done, but if you are aware of it, then you can do a much better job of controlling your speech and actions.
The common thread of Legos and this Kindergarten project is they both fall into Tiffany’s category #3. However, if I am aware of my triggers, and I don’t allow my fears of not being good enough, to pass on to my children, then I am going to (probably) help them to avoid a similar future of insecurity. Hopefully, with awareness, the opposite of oblivion, we can shine a light on our insecurities and we can work with them. Maybe we can even get to the root of them and overcome them, if we’re lucky.
We are all on a journey of self-discovery and the point is to evolve, become better people, so that we can help other people… and hopefully, so that all of us can just be happy.