“If you’re totally exhausted at the end of the day and you don’t know how you’re possibly going to get through another one, you’re probably a good parent.”
I’m not sure who wrote it but it was exactly what I needed to hear this week. Ellie is a beautiful, wonderful, charming whirlwind of a toddler who loves to have me chase her down whenever she needs a nap, or a change, or a face wash, or to get dressed, or really anything I need her for. She runs, grinning, her giggles floating back to me as I run her down and scoop her up.
I’ve often thought it would be funny to have a video camera set up 24 hours a day and then I’d just watch my whole day on fast forward. Bill would be tired just looking at it! Ah the eternal desire for appreciation or even understanding. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a clue what I do all day and probably never will. (Well, hopefully I mean if he does it means I’ve kicked the bucket and Ellie-duty has fallen to him alone. Shudder. Shudder. Shudder.)
It’s not that Bill would be a bad parent - on the contrary he’s quite loving and affectionate. He just wouldn’t do anything RIGHT. The putting on of pajama’s requires a ritual no less complicated than the changing of the guard in the Royal Castle. The awakening process likewise has it’s routine that must be followed precisely or chaos ensues.
Besides my own petty neuroticisms there’s the plain fact that at this age, almost two, he doesn’t understand her AT ALL. He can’t intuitively navigate what seems clear to me. I’ve heard one of his friends with three kids tell him, this time is for mommy. When they get older, then it’s time for daddy. It certainly seems to be the case for poor Bill.
ELLIE: WAHHHHHHH! WA, WA, WAHHHHH!
BILL: (Calmly) Ellie, stop crying please.
ME: (Stating the obvious) That’s not going to work. She’s not a co-worker having some inappropriate emotional time at the office. She’s a toddler. She just needs a snack, she’s hungry.
BILL: (Sternly) Ellie, you need to eat this now.
ME: (Stating the obvious) That’s not going to work. You need to bribe her with the hash brown, THEN she’ll eat her broccoli.
BILL: Why is she crying again?
Me: Because it’s almost bedtime and she’s tired.
Why I need to explain this at all mystifies me. Doesn’t he sense from her reactions what’s wrong?
Ellie is pre-verbal. Actually she’s says and repeats probably hundreds of words now but her usage is sporadic and when she’s upset it kind of all goes out the window.
Ellie must be read like a book of braille. She can’t TELL you what she wants in the language you’re used to. You have to intuit, FEEL what she’s feeling and figure out what she needs.
I think this is where Bill gets stumped. You need lots of EMPATHY to connect to a child. Bill is funny, and adventurous, kind and hardworking. He is smart, well-read, his opinions on most things well thought out and reasoned. But ask him to reach into the space where you are and understand, or guess how you feel based on body language and behavior alone and he’s blind.
I think empathy is something that needs to be taught, from way young young and if you aren’t instructed in it’s ways it will impact you forever. He simply can’t read body language. He doesn’t even SEE the subtle looks, understand the body language of two people talking to know they’re arguing, or whispering sweet nothings. Think how much he misses!
Think how much drama he misses! And how much fun? One thing is for sure, he isn’t a gossip. He is exactly who he portrays himself to be. He is guileless and straightforward.
My guess is that empathy wasn’t considered a particularly important skill for Bill to have as a child. Study. Work hard. Head down. Those qualities were held high and all else, creativity, intuition, compassion, interconnectedness, self awareness, self acceptance were not.
Fortunately I think empathy CAN be taught. I know this because Ellie has a new book called ‘Sad’ where the bunny on the front is crying. It’s supposed to teach them it’s ok to feel sad and what they can do to feel better. Her response to the bunny is ‘Ohh, ohhhh’ and she has a little pout where you can see she is EMPATHIZING with the sad bunny.
BILL: She sure is empathetic.
ME: (I KNOW. I encourage it. Wait, he can identify empathy when he see’s it. Good start! Promising start!) Ah huh.
BILL: (Stating the obvious) She didn’t get that from ME!
ME: (Smiling sympathetically. EMPATHETICALLY, and pat, pat, pat on the shoulder).
We’ll get there Spock, I mean Bill, we’ll get there.