"So," said Thing 2 after hearing the frustration creep into my voice yet again, "how can you love me and not my actions? I don't get that. If I were a serial killer and just plain evil, would you still love me?"
He was getting a little silly and unfocused as I had announced his need to get ready for bed, and I could not hide my annoyance.
Thing 2 likes to take me down the road of what-ifs. At first it seems like maybe he's just delaying the inevitable (bed), but we have these types of conversations frequently at any time of day so I know my kid. He's trying to work out his worth.
This year in middle school has found him observing that athletes are cool and kids who do well in every single class get awards. He finds himself lacking in these areas called out in our typical culture. The other night he was worried, at age 11, that he's not good at anything. I suggested that most people aren't good at much at age 11, but that is not what he sees. He sees kids with natural abilities in this or that and they get praise for it.
So I went on to tell him that I knew his record within our family. I knew that he was funny, creative, and thoughtful. I had confidence in who he was and who he would become. I also told him the only person who could make him feel good or bad about himself was him. However, his pest-like behavior before bed was just plain annoying. I told him that I got cranky, sometimes yelled, often made mistakes, but I guessed he still felt like he loved me. He knew my record. I was there for him no matter what. Neither of us, so far, were serial killers.
He nodded his head, stepped off the pestulance train, and headed to bed.
But it made me wonder a lot about how we communicate in our culture to our youngest citizens that they have to perform at certain level to be worthy of love and attention and that mistakes undercut your worth.
Taken in this context, it's not so hard to understand my guy's confusion.
I guess I don't want Thing 2 to think he has to be anything more than he already is. I want him to know that being human means making mistakes and real love is not fragile. It is solid and deep and enduring and within it contains an endless well of forgiveness. I want him to know his value comes from simply being who he already is. I want to teach him at a much earlier age than I learned myself that he's good. Now. He and I get easily frustrated by the world- it screams at us to do more and be better. I really want to re-write the song that seems to be playing in his head and offer him a short-cut to peace.
But real life has no short cuts, right?
Parents often want to prevent their kids from making the same mistakes we made. We want to give them opportunities and lessons we did not have and yet I wonder if this simply derails our kids from taking the very journey they are meant to be on. Can we really make things easier? And should we?
I have no answers, but I know Thing 2 will have more questions and I will be there. That's for sure.