Good or Bad?

A few nights ago at dinner, Laurel asked me, "Are you good or bad?"

I wasn't exactly sure where she was coming from. We'd had some differences in opinion over the amount of chocolate it was reasonable to consume in an afternoon. But I looked at her and paused for a moment and she seemed genuinely curious.

"I think I'm both. Sometimes good comes out and sometimes bad."

Earlier in the week, I'd gotten out of bed on decidedly the wrong side. I was stomping and grumbling my way through breakfast making in the kitchen when M asked me why I was in such a bad mood. This sort of exchange always has the potential to lead to who's-doing-more-for-the-family sort of fight. I said, "I didn't sleep enough, and the baby threw up all over my hair and I have hemorrhoids." I could have gone on, but he turned and gave me a hug and said, "Well then, you do have a reason to be in a bad mood."

And suddenly I was fine. All of the bad feelings coming out of me, confronted by a bit of compassion, morphed into good. I was amazed at how visceral my reaction was to his hug and it was a reminder of how I can react to Laurel's occasional wickedness.

When I look at Laurel and Mark O, I can't help but think that they'll be 13 or 33 or 43. They'll do good things. They'll do bad things. I'll love them no matter what. One of the hardest language habits for me to break is using the phrase "be a good girl." It's such a common utterance in our culture. But it's an unattainable state. They are going to do bad things. Say hurtful things. Judge people too harshly. Forget to be a steward of our earth and resources. Climb out the window into the flower box. (Guess which kid that was.)

My kids will also see other people doing good and bad things, and I want them to be able to separate the inherent complexity of a soul from the actions one commits. It's complicated to talk about and it requires a lot of "thinking before speaking" when I'm trying to discipline Laurel, and I imagine it will be the same way with Mark O.


Anonymous said...

Ask Janice to tell you about the time when Christopher, age 3 or so, and a little friend, took the screen out of his bedroom window and crawled out onto the roof of the front porch.

She crawled out after them and scooped them up and back inside.

aunt Mary

k said...

She said, "Don't worry mom, I did it safely."

MylesNye said...

Hi K., I'm Leah's friend / Fenton's Dad / Laurel's husband (other Laurel, obvi). Laurel reads your blog all the time and sometimes she reads bits to me. I've just added it to my RSS and I look forward to reading more about your family. Thanks for posting this. You always have such thoughtful things to say about raising your family. It's all I can manage to put photos on the blog, let alone writing content.

I thought for a moment about "be a good boy." I praise Fenton when he is good by telling him "what a good boy," but I don't think I instruct him to do so. I do tell him not to be naughty. Maybe someday he'll take my advice.

k said...

Hi Myles! Thanks for commenting. I use words like naughty and wicked (in my head they are pronounced with a British accent and remind me of Roald Dahl books). Anyway it is probably a product of my special Ed training to "praise the action not the child". Or is it from NurtureShock? My parenting is a work in progress to be sure.