Years ago, when this was a different blog, I wrote a post called Yes and No. I've been thinking about it here and there this summer, lazily drafting a post about things I always say yes to. Yes, you can always have a band-aid, even if your injury is invisible to the naked eye. Yes, you can check out whatever you want from the library (but OH you guys, I am rueing this one today, when the library is telling me I owe fines for Barbie The Cheerleader Veterinarian Talks About Clothes With Her Slender White Friends Again). Then I got stuck and asked my 14yo, who reminded me: Yes, you can always have a piece of fruit. Yes, I will (almost) always knit you that _____, whatever it might be.
That could easily be a Mama Wars kind of post, right? Not my intention, friends. We all have our stuff that we say yes to and our stuff we feel guilty about saying no to. I rarely say yes to requests to bake cookies and cupcakes, because baking them means I will eat too many of them (the guiiiiiiilt! will my children grow up to say, "My mom was an awesome baker but she would only bake for us on birthdays/name days"?). I could go on; I won't.
Tonight after the CSA pickup I was hanging out on the playground with Stella. A couple of other families were there too, including a mother with two boys who looked to be about 1 and 10. She was conspicuously sweet to the little one, and conspicuously frustrated with the bigger one. Her frustration was cloaked in middle-class positive-discipline lingo ("Now, Benedict, you need to make independent good choices!"), but there was a worrisome current of rigidity running through it. For instance: at one point he was running in a nearby field with a couple of his same-aged friends when she summoned him back to the playground. "I didn't see what you threw, Benedict, but you cannot throw anything unless you want to sit right here next to me."
Which-- dude. Ten-year-old boys, as a general rule, like to throw things. Telling a 10-year-old boy he can't throw anything at all, ever, not even in an open field with lots of safe throwing material lying around, is about like telling him he needs to work harder at his levitation because surely he can get around that pesky law of gravity if he just keeps trying.
We were there together for about 30 minutes, during which every interaction they had was negative-- every single one. When he was playing elsewhere she was talking about him to her friends, and every single comment was negative-- every single one. He was an especially active kid, and I get that it's frustrating to have a kid who needs regular reminders about civilized behavior. At the same time, his behavior was never unusual or dangerous. I also get that it's frustrating to have a mom who tells you every other minute that you're doing it wrong. At one point she said, "Benedict? Benedict! When I call your name you need to respond to me right away!" He still didn't respond. I wanted to say, "Perhaps he's not responding to you because he knows you're going to correct him again." I wanted to say, "Did you ever have a brother?" But maybe I could have just said, "How has your day been today?" Maybe I am doing that thing again where I extrapolate unjustly from limited information.
As I sat there I was trying to pray, for her and for all of us intermittently frazzled moms. The thing I want to remember about tonight is that you can choose your words attentively and still trumpet your vexation; you can modulate your voice carefully and still send a message of rejection, just as surely as if you shouted it. The thing I most hope my children will take with them when they leave my home is an inner certainty that they are loved unshakably. We can all draw our yes/no lines in different places, but I think our most important responsibility as mothers is to say an all-caps YES to a kid's fundamental identity. The person you are at your core, the person God made you to be: that person is loved forever.
I was drafting this post and my 14yo came over and said, "Remember when you read me The Two Towers aloud while you knitted and knitted?" He hugged me and told me how loved it made him feel. (If you have a 14yo boy, you will probably know that this is not an everyday occurrence.) The surge of gladness it brought me (and the relief, since I'd been fretting about the ways I am like the playground mom) felt like an answer to the prayer I'd been saying all through the evening: O God, let them know that they are loved.