Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bringers of Humility

I've always been a fan of Gustav Holst's The Planets. The movements are named after the planets in our solar system, and include:
- Mars, the Bringer of War- Venus, the Bringer of Peace- Mercury, the Winged Messenger- Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity- Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age- Uranus, the Magician- Neptune, the Mystic
He included all of our known planets, with the exception of Pluto. But Pluto got demoted, so Holst is right again.

He's inspired me to refer to my children as the Bringers of Humility.

There's nothing like small immature humans to knock you down a few notches. Especially when you birthed them and have the privilege of raising them. (Actually, birthing them has nothing to do with it. Raising them pretty much handles it. But pregnancy was a great intro to the loss of control and feeling of exhaustion that parenting brings...)

We had a busy morning planned. Why did I do that again? Oh, because there's not enough hours in the day for days to NOT be busy. I wanted to work out at the gym (for the first time in weeks), then we were headed to Harvard so MeToo could participate in a research study in one of the human development labs. My Master's thesis was possible because of helpful strangers that allowed me to record their children, so I figure it's nice for me to pay forward the favor. And, stupid as it is, there's a little part of the back of my brain that thinks that this will be good for the girls someday. Maybe they'll fondly remember going to Harvard and want to apply there someday. Maybe Harvard will somehow remember how cute, adorable, funny, precocious, spirited, curious, and observant they were and want to give them scholarships to attend. I know this is all silly. My mantra has always been "Harvard is as Harvard does." It's not the best school around, and certainly isn't the best for everyone. BestestHusband definitely doesn't want the girls to go there. He doesn't even want them to go to its geekier neighbor down the river, despite going there himself. But I digress... 

While HeyMama was playing with a research assistant in the toy room, MeToo went into the study room with all of the video cameras and I followed one of the researchers to the control room behind the curtain. I could watch all of the action on a computer monitor. 

In the toy room, MeToo had been her most charming self. She played with puzzles. She played with shape sorters. She interacted nicely with everyone. She was winsome. She said cute things. And all of the research staff understood her remarkably intelligible and complex sentences. What a good mother and Speech Pathologist I am!!!

But she was different with the cameras on. She wasn't bad, but she wasn't her most charming self. She played nicely with the researchers, she followed their instructions. But she started criticizing their toys. "I wanna diffent toy." (Translation:  I want a different toy. This one is lame.) When she said this, they brought out a new toy. Then 10 seconds later, the verdict came again. "I wanna diffent toy." This went on for about 5 minutes (they needed to collect a certain number of data points, and it took a while...). Then she gave up on their toy collection. "I wanna seeul bah." They didn't hand out cereal bars on command. "I wan see Fwehwah." Her sister continued to play next door in the toy room. "I wan see Mama." No response. So she headed for the exits.

What happened to my charming and winsome little darling? No longer the good mother and Speech Pathologist, I was the mother who had too many overstimulating toys and obviously did nothing to expand her 2 year old's attention span. 

Ok, so the toys were lame, by design, of course. But I felt the need to explain to the researcher watching the computer screen with me that the girls had just spent a week being entertained by grandparents. Spoiled by grandparents. They didn't usually need so much entertainment and external stimulation. They were creative little girls who could play with odd jingling boxes for hours on end. Really! They truly were genius little creatures functioning on the far right end of the bell curve! I'm not a bad mother!

I can lay out structure and provide experiences to help them develop appropriate skills and behaviors, but really, I have little control over their behavior. This is humbling. And will continue to be for decades, I'm sure. 

Working in geriatric rehab, I meet many people who have crushing and incapacitating health problems. And people who have been healthy for 8 decades only to slip on the ice and face a future of dependence. This is hard for anyone. But it seems to be the hardest for those who have never had children. Ok, sure, there are exceptions, like the narcissistic lady with 8 children who was the one who made my life the toughest any time she landed in our fair institution... (Hey Jenny, remember her?) But the pattern seemed to be there. Humility finds you sooner or later. And the longer you wait, the harder it is.  

Another digression:  a dear friend is an OT, and has worked with a lot of stroke patients. She thinks that women deal with hemiplegia (one sided-weakness) much better than men do. She has known women to take care of themselves quite well with only one functional arm. Many of her patients, years earlier, had managed a household with a baby in one arm. So doing things one-handed came naturally. Who knew that having kids could help you after you have a stroke?

So I'm telling myself that humility is good for me. I'll be much better off for experiencing it now. And tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the weeks, months, and years after that... 

What's the most humiliating thing you've known a kid to do? 


  1. Most humiliating thing? The one that comes to mind was a rare family outing to a Detroit MetroPark when DS2 was about 2, maybe 3. He was skinny as a rail (still is) and wandered around the beach area in his swimsuit with his ribs sticking out. We had brought perfectly good food (sandwiches) but he eschewed those & stood by a family a couple blankets away, staring at their fried chicken. They loaded him down with a plate of food which he brought over to us. Just wanted to die.

    But serioiusly, for a long time I was caught in the trap of thinking my kids' behavior/performance in school or church reflected my self worth as a parent. So I died when my shy eldest son refused to shake hands at our church installation and continued to be surly at public functions, when my middle son couldn't make friends, when my daughter never could hand in an assignment on time (she's 26 & still doesn't!). There were serious pathologies behind all these behaviors, but I was so trying to ingratiate myself with the teachers that I didn't hold the education system as responsible as it was for better outcomes. My sister-in-law was much more tenacious and actually got a good education for her youngest 2. Our children will not only teach us humility, but the need to forgive ourselves no matter the outcome. We're doing the best we can, with the help of God, and so much is completely out of our hands.

    1. Hahahahaha, I can see your son now!
      Very good points, Janice. I suspect that it will always be a challenge to keep it all in perspective.

  2. As a pastor's wife, humility comes in the form of a child who screams during the service, usually during the sermon, "I hate church! This is boring!"

    1. Hahahahaha! I think I would have tried melting into the pew!