When my daughter was in kindergarten she had a big, easy smile. She smiled all the time to everyone. Another mother asked what I had done to make my daughter like that. Her comment sent me over the moon with self-satisfaction.
I told her what Maya Angelou had said to Oprah. Angelou said always greet your child with a smile so they can see how much they are loved. A smile for a child is like handing them a cookie. Right out of the blue! This cookie is for you!
Whenever I stepped into the Kindergarten classroom at the end of the day I stood with the other parents at the back of the room and beamed. Smiling was pretty easy for me in those days. Kindergarteners are adorable. I had no expectations of performance or achievement. I wasn’t anxious about tests or grades or homework or arriving anywhere on time.
I just smiled, and the smile gave her everything and took nothing away.
Then things changed. Then I changed.
Things change all the time but they change in a big way come sixth grade, the beginning (in our school system) of letter grades, major homework and crowded, smelly classrooms of alarmingly overgrown kids who suffer daily insults that have nothing to do with their mother. There is no pack of parents at the back of the classroom, thank god, but emphatic instructions to stay far, far away and by all means stop embarrassing me!
A block up the street, she would get into my waiting car and I would ask how she was, and she would mumble something that didn’t tell me enough so I would ask again in rapid fire so that by the end of the four-minute ride home I would have pummeled her with all this and more:
How was lunch?
How was the test?
What was your grade?
What did the teacher say?
Was anyone nice to you?
Was anyone mean to you?
What’s the homework situation?
When will you start?
When will you finish?
How will you get it all done?
To my ear it was innocent enough: I was involved; I was attentive; I cared. But there was never going to be an answer that would make me feel secure with a reality that was out of my hands. I was giving her nothing but my own anxiety, as if her 25-lb. backpack weren’t enough.
It’s taken me awhile to realize what I’m really asking for as my daughter crumples into the car after a long school day. I’m asking for a cookie. Right out of the blue! Give me a cookie!
The thing is, she doesn’t carry the cookies. That’s not her job. If you want to share cookies with your kid, you’d better be the one to bring them.