Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Breastfeeding, HH Dalai Lama, and Not Ruining Your Kids

I live in fear, a good deal of the day. I realize this. I realize that many of my posts, especially the anit-consumerism posts, are very much driven out of fear. But this fear comes to me through a good place; I don't want to ruin my kids.

I see the world and the struggle and suffering of it. And I see my kids--the endless happiness and potential of them. To my older daughter, Solstice who is 3, every question must have an answer. She is endlessly curious about the world around her. Asking questions about clouds, about the meaning of words that she uses every day, the ages of people and characters from books, the location of anything and everything on a map, this is how she spends her day. Every bit of it is spent trying to get a firm grasp of the world around her and how it works. And she thinks I have an answer for everything. And even as an English professor, I'm stumped when she asks, "What does 'sure' mean, daddy?" or "Is this tomorrow? We woke up, didn't we?"

Not always having an answer is okay, I think, but I don't want to discourage her from satisfying that curiosity. I don't want her to stop asking questions, no matter how annoying it can get at times. I'm afraid that I could easily squash her desire to learn, or that media influences could convince her that the answers lie without instead of within. How do I properly keep her world intact instead of letting the outside world change her wonderful disposition?

And to my second daughter, Luna, there are no questions. The world is a delightful paradise of her own creation. I often catch glimpses of her doing complicated movements with her hands in the middle of the air and ask her what she's doing, "I'm making a cake," or "I'm putting on my tail," or "I'm doctoring Hogarth" are all common answers. Everything around her is a joke to her. Nothing is real because it's all her imagination. She delights in every part of her day and, really, it's hard to convince her that you're serious when you're trying to get her in trouble.

How do I let the world at large intrude on her perfect personal construction of reality? There are times when I've hoped that she will forever stay in that fanciful world of hers, especially if she can pull me into it. How can I stand aside and watch her visions be crushed by the cruelness of the world around her?

I'm not talking about sheltering them--at least I'm not trying to. I'm not talking about hovering over them like a helicopter and controlling their world. I'm talking about letting them keep control of their world. Do I have the wisdom to let them foster their own cognitive realities? How can I keep from accidentally indoctrinating them into our materialistic and selfish culture?

I think I have to reach back. I have to continually remember that these are the same girls that were babies in my arms and that they deserve my compassion and understanding at every turn. The Dalai Lama says in the book The Art Of Happiness that humans are instinctively compassionate, that we need compassion to survive and that selfishness and possessiveness are acquired. He gives the example of breastfeeding:

Our first act after birth is to suck our mother's milk. That is an act of affection, of compassion. Without that act, we cannot survive. And that act cannot be fulfilled unless there is a mutual feeling of affection. From the child's side, if there is no feeling of affection, no bond, towards the person giving the milk, then the child may not suck the milk. And without affection on the part of the mother, then the milk may not come freely. So that's the way of life. That's reality.

Is it possible to hold onto that affection, as parent and child? To hone and practice that compassion, so that the child doesn't have to have their independent view of the world co-opted, hijacked, and made to conform? Or is conformity an absolute? Will I, without realizing, push my child away?

I want to embrace my daughters' dreams, whatever they may be. I know that theirs won't be the same as mine. But I am in awe of them, and if they can keep these pure and exciting views of the world, I know that they will be better views than I hold.


Katharos said...

Great reminder...I too often rush through the day and don't enter my daughter's world.

Bart Lewis - Parents, Geeks and God said...

I just found your site and love your content. Great post! Can't wait for more.

Sol Smith said...

Bart and Katharos-

Thank you both very much!

sarah jane said...

hey there, Sol- found your excellent blog thru your comments on my own (thanks, btw!) and am happy for finding it.

thanks for the reminder to be peaceful and compassionate. my girls are 3, 7 & 9, and with school, chores, full time career for husband and i, not to mention my writing and his side projects... it is SO EASY to just rush the kids from dinner to dishwasher emptying to bath to bed, without always completely connecting with them.

they're so small and precious now. my books can always be written later, my husband's code can always be compiled later, and the world will continue (maybe) to rotate... for now maybe we'll unplug from the noise and drive and just sit and watch bugs with them :)