The kids were crabby and hot. My husband was out of town, and I was exhausted. The boys just wrapped up a soccer match, and as we piled into the car, the requests jettisoned out of all three of them: “Can I play on the Ipad? Can we stop and get a slushy? Can we go out for lunch? Why can’t we?!!! Can I pick the first song?” A chorus of complaints about each other followed: “She’s talking over me, he won’t let me by, you aren’t listening to me…”
Having had enough, but trying to keep the stress monster at bay, I bargained with them (yes, bribed), and agreed to treat them to something full of sugar if they would ALL be quiet and still for the next 5 minutes. No songs, no talking, no crying, NOTHING for an itty bitty five minutes. I got quick, “Yes!” responses. We took off, and my 4-year-old daughter said, “Pause game, I have a question,” and asked her completely nonessential question. The boys started complaining. The quiet was killed.
Finally, one of them heard my distress sigh and said, “We’re going to lose the treat! Be quiet, unpause.” (Ah yes, I must give a quick thanks to electronics for introducing the concept of “pause” to a previously pure challenge of nothingness.) Silence again for 10 seconds until somebody bumped somebody, resulting in howling and crying. The other two flipped out, because now, they’re going to lose the reward, and the crier ruined it for everyone. I calmed them down with a reminder that we weren’t home yet, and all we needed was 5 minutes (5!!!) of quiet. They still had time; they could do it. They rallied…stillness…promptly interrupted by crying as my daughter sobbed, “But Mommy, I just LOVE to talk!”
And that was the end of the Quiet Game as we all burst into laughter. Sometimes we just have to BE who we are and accept others for who they are. My daughter is extroverted, outgoing, and loud. Even her walk is loud. She lives life out loud. That is who she is. It wasn’t crazy for me to ask for a few minutes of quiet, but it also wasn’t crazy for her to admit that her soul ached to be heard.
Her spirit inspires me. She bubbles with excitement over the littlest of things. Much to the detriment of my nerves, she has no fear and never has. She seeks adventure and climbs, jumps, and swings on and from anything and everything. We call her “the tornado” because as she makes her way through the day she leaves a trail documenting her escapades. She decorates herself with paint, chalk, and garish, I mean, glamorous combinations from her closet. She sings at the top of her lungs in her squeaky, off-key voice as we wind our way through the grocery store. She shows off her dance moves on the Barnes & Noble book stage believing that stage was made for her. There’s no worry about what someone may think or say or remember. She wants to sing and dance, so she does. And, it’s beautiful; not because she’s a prodigy ready to hit Broadway, but because she is lost in the moment and living her life.
Yet, she is only 4, still unjaded by culture, other people, and her own ego. As her mother, I feel enormous pressure to safeguard her from all that can crush her spirit. I worry about her future teachers; will they nurture her vibrant personality or stifle it? Will her friends celebrate her courage or chide her for being different? Will I draw one too many lines in what she’s “supposed to do” and prevent her from reaching who she is truly supposed to be? Will she lose her sense of self as her ego gains strength and her innocence fades?
We were all born with that same sense of wonder, unbounded confidence, and knowledge of who we truly are, but time wore them away. Many of us are now awakening to the truth that we can reclaim our spirit by listening to our inner selves, being vulnerable, and living with compassion and without fear of judgement. As I turn 41 this week, it’s fascinating to me that my greatest teacher and inspiration on how to embrace who I am, is my 4-year-old. Watching her be herself reminds me what it looks like to be grateful and joyful; it highlights the importance of seizing the moment without fear of what others will think. My whole-hearted life will look entirely different than hers, and that’s the way it should be. I just want to live it.
There’s a pop song by Shawn Mendes, called “Life of the Party.” Every time I hear it, I think of the way my daughter jumps into life ready to experience it. But, the song also inspires me with a caution that life is finite, and a reminder to not spend time alive regretting past choices or missed opportunities. Mistakes are a given, so make them good ones that can be lessons or a good laugh. My favorite line in the song is, “We don’t have to be ordinary,” which to me means we allow our true selves to shine. We follow our own dreams. We stop trying to fit in or worry about how we will be perceived. That’s what makes us stand out, makes us extraordinary.
My little tornado is setting a vibrant example of that life model. Hopefully as she grows up she never loses her extraordinary-ness. And, as I too grow up, may I learn to whole-heartedly accept who I am and live in the moment. You won’t hear me belting out any tunes in Target, but I’ll definitely be launching kayaks, speaking my mind, and jumping in rain puddles.