Sitting in traffic this morning, I watched a frustrated father reach into the back seat of his car and snatch his child’s juice box from her hands. His mouth was tight, lips pushed together with such force the blood had fled. He jabbed the straw into the hole in the top of the box and tossed the box back into her lap. I felt an arrow of pain in my chest, wondering what it felt like for the little girl to start her day with her father angry and making her feel stupid. I wanted to shout at him, “All she wanted was some help, you callous bastard!” As a parent, I have been there many times myself, and I sympathized with him simultaneously. I imagined his controlled panic as he managed to get her and her baby brother ready to go that morning, packing lunches and diaper bags. He was now stuck at a red light, 25 cars back, that he had no hope of getting through for at least two more turns. He was multitasking, spending his idle time at the light filtering through the day’s work in his head. The last thing he wanted to deal with was a juice box, for God’s sake!
I found myself wishing that children could have cyborgs for parents at times like this. Someone who could place them first at all times without being distracted by other pressures and taking it out on the children. Kids have so much of their own pressure, learning an extraordinary amount of information every day just to keep up, and they really need parents who can understand their needs and focus on nurturing them and supporting them through this difficult time. Wait, how absurd is that? Did someone just tip over my marble bin? I don’t think I had ever taken the time to explore it before, but now I was beginning to understand that most parents, with all of their imperfections, are actually perfect parents for their children. Maybe the trick is to understand the ultimate goal of parenting.
Are we trying to raise our children to be perfect little creatures, in tune with their own desires and needs, accomplishing tasks with efficiency and clarity at appropriate developmental milestones? All of that sounds pretty good at first, but when I really examine it, I don’t think that that is what I want. I want to raise my children to be human beings, with flaws and quirks that make them interesting. I don’t want them to hurt, but I know that they will need to perform some spectacular face-plants in order to experience what snow truly feels like in their underwear and up their noses. The people I find most fascinating are those who have hilarious stories to tell about their adventures and misadventures.
I also realized that some of the most spine-tingling moments I have had in my life have been those that came after months of soul-searching and frustrated questioning. The times when I have struggled to find an answer or determine just how I truly feel about something have given me more insight into who I am and how I view the world and have afforded me a great deal of pride and excitement. I can’t deny my children the opportunity to suffer and learn in that way. I want my children to be human, to be full of humanity. It is very unlikely that they will ever live in a place where they are the center of attention. I would rather give them the tools to understand how to live and interact with other people than have someone cater to their every need. Often, the way we gain insight into ourselves is by the way we react to others.
That little girl will bounce back from her rough morning with her daddy. I hope he gives her a warm hug and a sloppy kiss as he drops her off for the day and she knows with great certainty that he loves her. She will store the memory that sometimes Daddy and Mommy get angry but it doesn’t affect where she stands in their hearts. I truly hope that she will grow up to give herself permission to get angry with others and express it. I hope she never feels as though her emotions are invalid or improper. It turns out that human parents are the best option we have if our goal is to raise children who are infused with humanity.