"While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about." - Angela Schwindt
Lately, Finn, my youngest, has been waking in the night. He’s become, at six, suddenly afraid of things: the dark, monsters, old people.
“I don’t like how old people look. They are scary,” he whispers to me when we are coming close to an elderly person, careful not to hurt their feelings.
I assure him there is nothing to be scared about; old people were young people once. We, too, will get old.
“But I don’t want to get old. I don’t want to die. I don’t want you to die,” he says, looking into my eyes, his own watery and blinking.
You are not going to die for like a hundred years, I say, meaning it, willing it.
These conversations we have, the ones I have with my children, at bedtime, driving in the car, at someone’s bedside – these are the conversations that crystalize more of what I feel about life and what’s important about it than any other thing I do.
Perhaps it’s because children – at least mine – don’t allow for grey areas. Something is either wrong or right. Yes or no. There is going to be dessert or there isn’t. There is a Santa or there isn’t. There is a good way to treat people and there is a bad way.
They make me state my principles – and then they hold me to them.
I tell them kindness and respect are the rules of the house, so if they catch me being less than exemplary in either area, they will bring it to my attention and quickly. They pin me on questions of ethics and nutrition, the existence of an afterlife, bullying and how elves can possibly know how to make Hex Bugs.
They have clarified my position on so many things and having done so, have made me take the high road and cling onto it, wanting to make them proud, wanting them to have something to emulate.
And then I find myself not only clinging to that high road, but also occasionally trucking right along. When I do falter, as I am prone to do, it can be messy and disappointing for all of us.
Ultimately though, my children’s natural sweetness and tendency toward prioritizing the important things - playing outside as long as possible, swinging for the fences, going barefoot in the summer, splashing puddles in the winter, watching the fireworks until every last one is done and gone – have shaped my idea of what’s important.
However, when their fears arise, like Finn’s of late, I try to create pillars of safety for him, even in a world that feels so unstable. As much as my children have made me a truth teller and a high road seeker, I will also create whatever haven, real or imagined, to protect their innocence and light.
What our children teach us most, is that they are everything.