Recently, my 6-year-old daughter Annie, has been particularly Annie-ish. And of course, this is worthy of sharing.
Upon realizing Mother's Day was followed by Father's Day, she asked, "When is Children's Day?" "There isn't one," I said. "Oh yes there is! I will celebrate Annie Day in between Mother's Day and Father's Day and I would like some jumping beans for a gift."
What kind of kid creates their own holiday and only asks for Mexican Jumping Beans?!?
Annie has been particularly concerned with making sure my parents "get to know" Ryan's parents. For some reason she is convinced her grandparents don't know one another very well and she has been anxiously trying to arrange get-to-know-you events. Both sets of grandparents flew to Nashville for her birthday party a few weeks ago and we shared several meals, car-rides, late night patio time and other birthday fun together. On more than one occasion Annie pulled me aside, squealed and told me quite seriously that "she thinks they are becoming best friends." I just don't have the heart to tell her that they knew each other for a total of seven years before SHE EVEN EXISTED. That they were introduced to one another fifteen years ago! I just can't. At the final bar-b-que, when both sets of grandparents were tucked under jackets and blankets on the back porch, laughing and carrying on, Annie said goodnight and I went inside with her to get her ready for bed. When I closed the bedroom door she squealed with more joy than I have ever heard and said "MOM! They are best friends!!! They are having so much fun together I just can't even tell who is married to who anymore!!!!"
In the car pool line. "I've had the worst day ever mom."
"Why baby? What happened?"
"Lauren (not-her-real-name) slapped me across the face at recess."
"What do you mean? Why in the world did she slap you?"
"Because I was dead."
"Why were you dead?"
"Mom- cats die all the time."
Well. That clears it up.
In the car pool line again. "Mom this was the worst day ever." Again.
"Why baby? What happened?" Again.
"Well, Lauren (not-her-real-name) caught Natalie (not-her-real-name) stealing two of my toys from my back-up. She stole them from me Mom! And she put them in her own backpack! Why would she steal from me?"
As we drove home I told Annie about good people who make bad decisions. How some kids- a lot of kids- don't get as much love, attention, toys and affection as she does. How some kids learn to make hurtful decisions from their own parents' and grandparents' examples. How some kids operate out of their lack-of without thinking about the person they might be hurting in return.
"I've never once seen Natalie's parents at school. They might have to work really long hours to take care of their family or maybe they aren't around and she doesn't get the depth of love you get. All of those things might be factors in why she would steal from you. She sees that you get lots of stuff and lots of love and maybe she thinks you won't notice if something comes up missing; that you won't care because you already have more than enough. It doesn't make her actions right, but her actions could very well stem from some of those places inside of her heart and mind."
The next morning Annie disappeared after breakfast. I found her in her playroom packing a bag of games and toys. "Mom, these are for Natalie. Maybe if she feels loved and gets a few presents from me, she won't have to steal anymore."
And that, my friends, is a true Annie-ism. Profound beauty and generosity for the world around her.
As her mom, I so desperately want to wrap her in bubble wrap and protect her from a little girl who steals, and another little girl who slaps and from her own desire to create a national holiday celebrating herself and from the painful moments this life will undoubtedly bring her. But more than that, I want to set her free. Free to let her empathy, grace, beauty and generosity run wild. Free to love others without fear of rejection, fear of being taken-advantage of, fear of not being recognized in return, fear of people not quite like her, fear of giving away too much. I want her to be fearless and free. So I will sit on my hands and not TAKE OUT THE CHILD who slapped her. Sit on my hands and not grab hold of the things she wants to give away. Sit on my hands and not bubble wrap her and keep her safe when everything inside of me wants to. I will not steal those things that are most like God, deeply imbedded within her, from her in an attempt to keep her safe. I will set her free. And in so doing allow the world to be touched by her radical generosity, profound beauty, enduring empathy and whimsical grace.