This morning was a hot mess. We were late. My 3 year old granddaughter, who I call Pixie, decided to have a potty emergency five minutes AFTER we should have walked out the door. So, back into the house we went to change clothes, use the potty, wash everyone's hands, and try again.
Once all that was resolved, we were off (now 10 minutes late) to the Unitarian Universalist church that I've attended off and on for more than a decade. For those that aren't familiar with the idea of UU-ism, here's an oversimplified answer: UUs value everyone, regardless of any human characteristic. They welcome straight as well as LGBTQ+, atheists or any other religious (or lack of ) belief system..in short, ALL people are welcomed. They believe that diversity improves the world. They also embody a social justice perspective of tolerance, acceptance, and social action. For obvious reasons, I appreciate the open community.
We arrived just after the service had begun, missing the announcements, prelude, and welcome, but making it for the bulk. The children are always in the service until after they have special time with the worship leader (may be the minister or a lay leader, depending). This happens just about 1/3 of the way through the service. So, the schedule is something like this:
Musical Prelude (Music for Gathering)
Hymn of the Month
It was during the Hymn of the Month...the first participatory song in the service that I had a moment of epiphany.
We were all the way in the very back, (of course) being latecomers, but the church was pretty full, so we were joined by others in that section.
And, for the first time, my hands weren't full with her baby brother, so I noticed things...
People were looking.
Some were smiling and swaying.
Some were scowling, clearly displeased that my beautiful granddaughter was out of her seat or moved by music.
Oblivious, Pixie twirled around and around. In three year old fashion, she bumped into an empty chair with little effect. She wasn't daunted and kept right on twirling, her face a mask of concentration and flow....purely invested in her dance.
And, two things happened simultaneously in my brain:
1. I smiled and was in awe for a minute or two of her complete safe embrace in the moment. Her self-possession was both charming and powerful.
2. I was tempted to snatch her back, hiss at her to sit down and be still. It was, after all, what would have been done to me. It was, undoubtedly, what I did with my own (now grown) children. Children were to be still, silent, polite, "seen and not heard."
I was horrified on more than one plane:
1. I felt tremendous shame that I'd forced my own children into the quiet box where creativity and self-expression were not allowed.
2. I felt fear to not force Pixie in the same box ... what if she can't function in society? What if she can't make friends? What if? ...yes, I recognize the idiocy of this, but it is a real fear.
In my own life, some level of conforming was required in order for me to be successful in my career, in my neighborhood, and in my life at large.
Where's the balance?
How do we decide what to encourage and what to correct?
Why do we need these norms and rules, anyway?
No, I will not allow my grandchildren to be wild, rude, and inconsiderate. I draw clear lines there. I believe in being polite and kind. I believe in cooperation and humility. Compassion is one of my core values and will be largely celebrated.
But, isn't the sweeping insecurity and epidemic of low self-esteem largely due to our forced rules, desperate and counterproductive socialization techniques, and desire to control children? Even our laws require that caregivers exercise "care, custody, and control" over children.
And, not expecting it, I am now a middle-aged woman grappling with the big questions of child-rearing, again. And, I expect I'll answer them quite differently than I did the first time.