I heard the way you spoke to her at the store. Like she embarrassed you. Like she wasn't good enough. She was five, maybe pushing six. She was free and sparkling and alive. You were her weight and her chain, making sure her boundless joy didn't lift her off the floor and out of your grasp.
What was your day like? I noticed that you in particular weren't having any fun. It was a shame. To be with such an amazing child and be only angry and frustrated and miss out on all the magic that lay in the palm of her small hand.
You scolded. You shamed. You controlled her every move. You rolled your eyes and told her she was irresponsible. And then you repeated it, even more loudly in case anyone missed it. "That's right. You're irresponsible. What do you think of that?"
But the question was rhetorical. I don't think you would have heard her reply if she had offered one. She was told that she was irresponsible in response to her polite request to be the one to pull the basket. The statement was preceded with an incredulous "No! You can't pull the basket." Because you're irresponsible.
She was irresponsible in your eyes because she had played. Just for a moment with that wheeled cart. She was bored with your shopping. And she was five for goodness sake. But she didn't yell or complain or whine or make a scene. She simply said, "Whee!" and gently - joyfully - spun the basket in a circle in the isle. She hit no one. She scared no one. She just played. For like four seconds.
And for that she was shamed and punished.
You barked at her when she walked a few feet from your side. That she must stay next to you and not venture an inch further. Unmoving she must wait for you to pick out your new dress, while looking across the isle at the display of second-hand toys just a few feet from her grasp.
It broke my heart.
And I almost said something. To you, to her - to somehow illuminate that dark cloud that was around you both. I wanted to protect her and make sure her magic was never snuffed out. If she were a puppy I'd have offered to take her off your hands. (But somehow I thought thrift-store adoption offers were frowned upon so I didn't suggest I take her home to join my own kids.) I talked to her for a moment as I looked at jewelery and you looked worried, like somehow she or I might cause more trouble in your already difficult day.
I almost said something. To help lift you both up from that darkness.
I saw it.
I saw her sparkle. She was unwavering. You weren't breaking her. Because her heart was made to shine and her wings would carry her high beyond your grasp and efforts to hold her back.
Indeed. She was magic. What were you?
I believe that every behavior is based in need. Hers. Mine. And yes, even yours. Her need was for play. For fun. What was your need?
Did you need others to respect you? Did your life feel out-of-control so you found control where you could, with your child? Did you feel lonely or depressed or angry or ashamed or powerless yourself? I ached for her. And I ached for you.
As I walked away all I wanted to tell you this: We speak the language of our children's futures. Either she will shut out the sound of your voice or you will set the tone for what she attracts. Yours will become the voice of her friend, her partner, her boss, her inner self. Is she worthless? Irresponsible? Or do you see her gifts? Which future are you are sending her into?
And then I longed to ask: Can you see her? Can you see her sparkle?
You have magic right here by your side. And I wonder if you can see her at all.
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Edited to add: Thanks for your beautiful comments on this post. Many of you identify with the daughter, others with the mother, still others with my role as observer. No, I do not thing mothering is always easy. Yes, sometimes I lose my cool. Really lose it. But I believe in kindness, apologies, and the power of non-voilence. Mothering is the hardest job I've ever had, but also the one that I think matters the most. Good luck, mama, whomever you are. Sending healing thoughts your way. More about mothehood here.