I’m learning that many of the things I imagined I required from my growing children are idealistic at best and ridiculously, squashably unattainable at worst. I expected that I’d need to patiently explain things to them only once. They’d then nod with an otherworldly wisdom and move on from there, bettered little creatures, never again to struggle with this same issue.
I imagined that they’d smell of roses and sunshine. And only perhaps other flower species, varying from child to child, because in my mind, I magnanimously allowed for individual differences.
I dreamed that they would excel at everything they put their hands to, for I knew in my heart that they would be unusually gifted children, cut not of ordinary cloth, but of shinier, more ethereal stuff.
I knew that they would be fairy-tale children, leaving harmonious relationships and bubblegummy peace in their wakes. So when I learned that my glimmering Thumbelina had been teasing her friend about her dependency upon Goodnights at the ripe old age of 10, I very nearly couldn’t believe it. In fact, I may not have, were it not for the fact that the Mama to the little girl in question very lovingly, very gently, told me all about it. She wasn’t the kind of Mama who seeks to bring shame to other mothers so that she can feel better about her own parenting repertoire, but was a gentle, lovely, laughing One who told me in such a way so as to spare my maternal dignity because she knew that I wanted – nay needed – to know. How else was I to help my little girl out of the place which found her delighting in the shame of someone else? My Thumbelina seemed a little less glittery on that day. But she became more substantial, too and less vaporous and more mine.
My Pinocchios, too, become more real the farther through life they go. Or at least their Mother begins to see them for who they really are, which is flesh-and-blood children who need loves and cuddles and no more maternal blind eyes cast their way, glossing over imperfections, imagining them to be faultless. The fruitless hope that if maybe I squeeze my eyes closed tightly enough, then maybe their weaknesses might just be rendered nonexistent is just that: fruitless. It’s naive and it’s hollow. And it precludes real relationship with these real little people. It makes them think that maybe they should default to lying to me, their doting, exacting mother, so as not to burst her hot air balloon propelling her through her land of make-believe. That land is a lonely one, though the glitter floats everywhere.
So now as I love them, I try to do so with my eyes open wide. I remind myself (for it does not come naturally to me, as I am inclined toward being pridefully perfectionistic) to be open about my own failings so as to set the stage for a child-like version of just that same thing: an open sharing of failings. I want for them to know that they can share all of themselves with me and know in their bones that I will always love them. And I will love them all the more because they are not imaginary figments of my fairy-tale imagination. They get dirt underneath their very tangible fingernails and they tattle and they work themselves up into dramatic fits, satisfying only to themselves in the very middle of that moment. They exaggerate. They stay up late, sometimes, past their bedtimes. I sometimes find granola bar wrappers under their beds, stashed clandestinely. They try to leave quickly on their bike rides without helmets, before I can see their bare heads and I love them so much. Bare-headed, dirty-fingernailed, wonderful little people.