Hello Baby Girl. How are you, my Dove?
Right now, I’m sitting at the little square glass breakfast table and you are crawling on the kitchen tile around me…laying on the little white rug…off to the spices to throw what you can reach as far behind you as your arm can easily manage. I love watching you play.
I have paused several books because I wanted to share their contents with you. I also wanted to share something I learned on Red Table Talk with Jada Pinkett-Smith today. Perhaps I will first get to sharing that.
The Red Table Talk in question is Season 2, Episode 16: The Narcissism Epidemic, from October 28, 2019. It was a very enlightening discussion of narcissism that made me realize my ex was a narcissist, and possibly of the malignant type. I am so grateful to have gotten out of my relationship with him. It was years overdue, and truly years in the making (I had tried to leave him several times, but always allowed him to swing me back in). It also makes me extremely grateful for your father. If not for him, I would very likely still be in that toxic, soul-crushing relationship.
I want to go deep with you on this, to inform you of what a healthy relationship looks like and what it absolutely does not look like, though people in the midst of a bad relationship may find it most difficult to see. My hope is that I can expose you to the characteristics of both healthy and unhealthy relationships before you get into one so that you are more aware of your situation and therefore more empowered to either stay or go.
This is a conversation we will have. I will write it out for you. Honestly, I want to include the transcript of this particular Red Table Talk and have the discussion around it, as I think it is a powerful frame to build this extremely relevant conversation around.
The truth is, my Dove, you will be in many relationships in your life, and not all the people that you are with will necessarily truly care for you. This is not a reflection of you, Dove, but rather a reflection of the person you’re with. How you treat others is all about you and has nothing to do with them. YOU choose how you treat people, and the same is true about them. THEY choose how to treat you – for good or bad. It is not your decision nor a reflection of your character. No need to take it personal.
There are times, however, when how somebody treats you can be toxic to you, your soul, your health. When that happens, it’s so crucial to recognize the signs of it early on, while you still possess the confidence and independence to walk away.
If you don’t, if you hesitate when your gut is insisting something isn’t right, you may very well secure the trap they have set for you. You don’t have to go through that, Sweet Ayla.
I’d really like to be fully present for this conversation, but don’t feel I can be that right now. I didn’t sleep last night (after waking up with you at midnight, I simply could not go back to sleep…at all) and we’ve had a day in the sun and water at Madison Blue Springs State Park. My body and mind are a bit tired. I fear I would miss sharing something important, and I want to do this conversation justice.
Please, come to me. Let’s sit down and have this conversation. Just like in Red Table Talk. We’ll sit around the table with a cup of tea (they don’t have anything to drink in Red Table Talk, but that’s okay) and just get real with one another. I want to know your heart and your mind, Ayla, and I want to share with you mine.
In the meantime, I will share with you one of the passages from a book I have paused reading until I offer you my thoughts on it.
The book is “Imagination First: Unlocking the Power of Possibility,” by Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon. On page 188, the authors write:
“…from where [Richard Lewis] sits, it is pretty clear what makes young humans allergic to imagination: school.
“In school,” he says, “children begin to see that there are right and wrong answers and that rewards come with the right answers. This produces the sense that the real achievement of mind is doing right.” Lewis is not some utopian who rails against any distinction between the correct and the incorrect. “But you’ve got to discern,” he insists, “between those parts where correct answers matter, like spelling and math, and all those other parts where it does not.”
When we are children, our learning is not linear or category-minded or geared to success. It just is. As we fiddle with magnets or listen to the night or trudge across snow, we see, we wonder, we try — we try a different way. But eventually we get contaminated with this notion of “for every question, a right answer.” And from there we become fearful of error — of failure. We want to align the core of our identity to a true north of correctness. So we strive mightily every minute to stave off wrongness. We marshal the full might of our self-justification machinery to lay errors and failures at the feet of others: Mistakes Were Made, as the title of Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson’s book puts it (subtitle: But Not By Me).
In our desperate ego-coddling efforts to fend off failure and inch toward power, we do two costly things: First, we hug the status quo tight, because that is the rational way to avoid the cognitive dissonance of being possibly wrong or a fool or a failure. Second, we forget what children know intuitively, which is that there’s a useful way to fail and a wasteful way. The wasteful way to fail is to deny it or hide it. This is what the theater director Bartlett Sher calls “aggressive stupidity” — a firing offense in his companies, but par for the course in many others. The useful way is to treat failing like a learnable skill — something that, with effort and reflection, we can get better at until one day we can reach the point of mastery. If at first you don’t fail, try, try again.
How do we become masters at failing? For one thing, practice. Whether in Olympic swimming or Army field exercises, corporate crisis management or piano lessons, good practice is not mere repetition; it is paying attention. It is releasing the ego’s hold on the situation long enough to let our mistakes guide us. It is creating a safe environment where others can learn the same way. We get better at failure by not punishing it when it’s useful. And what makes it more likely to be useful is wielding Lewis’s rule of discernment like a fine-edged knife against the clay of experience, surrendering as little as possible to the realm of “right” answers. Most of life is judgment calls, not binary choices. Failure, properly consumed, fortifies judgment.
Adults, especially parents, understand that it is part of our responsibility to point out to children their bad habits. Imagine if all children had the vocabulary to point out our bad habits to us. But wait a minute — they do. They may not use spoken words. They use a kind of sign language. Each motion offers a lesson in failing well: Here Dad, look — this is how to persist at figuring something out. Or: Here’s how it looks when you try something without assuming you’ll stink at it. A child’s gestures and postures add up to a tale told in symbols, inviting us to fill the gaps on our own. Just as in sign language. Or poetry.
One day, in a classroom in East Harlem, Richard Lewis asked a group of seven- and eight-year-olds, “Do you think there is a bird who could make the rain fall, or who could bring up the sun in the sky?” They talked about what that bird would be, would look like, would do, and he asked them to draw it. Then he asked the children to describe their visions. This is what Joel, one of those children, said:
My bird comes out at night on a full moon. He flies through the sky. At night you can never see him. He is in you. His name is imagination. He lives in a place called heart brain body. It is in everyone. Some adults think it is childish but it will never leave you even if you hid it.
The truly unconscionable failure is to cage that bird. Everything else is possible.”
I’m back! That was a long excerpt, I know.
I highlighted the one sentence I feel most perfectly sums up the points being made by the authors. If there was only one sentence for you to walk away with, that is the sentence I would choose for you to take with you.
The second sentence that is of such high import, and is really what made me pause the book to share with you, is the first one — about school being what makes humans allergic to imagination. This resonates with me so powerfully.
I believe school is more of the problem, not the solution.
This is why I do not want to send you to school. Ever. I feel I would be doing you a great disservice by sending you to school.
It isn’t the teachers. I believe teachers generally want to help their students. The problem is the system of education. It is extremely outdated and has not progressed with the times or technology (aside from adding computers to classrooms and doing away with cursive handwriting, which I am actually quite sad about). It is quite rigid and does not allow for innovation in the classroom.
There is a famous quote often attributed to Albert Einstein, though there is no definitive truth that this is true, and may originate from a much earlier time than Einsteins. The quote is this:
“Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing it is stupid.”
This is a perfect summation of our education system. We try to standardize everything, create one mold for all young people to fit into, then tell them they are stupid or talentless, or any other number of negative adjectives, when they do not actually fit into that single mold. When you are told that you don’t measure up for the duration of your formative years, it exacts a heavy, much-too-often irreversible belief that you indeed will never amount to anything. This causes you to live a live of mediocrity, thinking you could do no better, no matter how hard you tried.
This is utterly ridiculous and wasteful of a human being and I absolutely cannot abide sending you through a system I 100% believe will be a waste of your time, talents, effort, and imagination.
The intention, then, is to give you a world education. We will teach you everyday with our lives. We will teach you things that you ought to know: the practical (i.e. cooking and cleaning, math and reading), relationships (i.e. compassion and active-listening), the emotional (i.e. recognizing, exploring, and accepting your own feelings), the physical (i.e. how to fuel your body for maximum energy and good health), and so many more lessons that will serve you well throughout your life. We will also touch on worldly subjects, such as history, art, politics, and science. And most importantly — because it cultivates your own unique genius — we will pursue topics that you find particularly interesting, and we will do our best to seek those topics while they are at the forefront of your mind.
Papa was just trying to get you to go to sleep when he came out of your room then headed straight outside, saying we should be able to see a comet tonight at 9:11pm (which was around the time he walked outside — you’re going to sleep later and later these days). You hadn’t fallen asleep yet, so I went to get you from your room and take you outside so the three of us could see the comet over Jacksonville. It turns out it wasn’t a comet… it was a satellite. We all watched it from the driveway…it was moving so fast! It must be going at incredible speeds to seem fast from such a distance! It looked like an airplane high up in the sky, except without the blinking lights that usually accompany airplanes.
It reminded me of the 4th of July, walking out into the driveway and the street to watch the fireworks with you and Papa. The fireworks definitely caught your attention! Admittedly, tonight’s satellite did not. You were so adorable watching the fireworks, the light of them illuminating your face (perhaps that was just my imagination…in any case, you were lovely to behold).
Back to topic:
We will certainly expose you to our likes, testing the waters of whether you also like those things. We have already done this with books and music. Books from me and music from Papa. You are surrounded by both on a daily basis. There are books everywhere you turn. You see me with one in hand or nearby every day. They are the main thing that is most accessible to you, as you can reach all the lower bookshelves. You pull the books down to the floor and then go through them. I love it, and am excited for the day when you begin reading the words.
As for music, you see Papa playing the guitar every day. You definitely try to play it, too, sometimes while Papa is holding it, but even when it is just laying on the couch, untouched. You see it and you want to touch the strings. We try not to let you too much for fear of you cutting your fingers on the strings, but we do have intentions of getting you your own guitar or ukulele that you can use for the next few years.
We also recently put the keyboard on the floor for you so that you can make music on your daily exploration of the house. You definitely play with the keys and the buttons, so you make all sorts of sounds. You also like to crawl on top of the keyboard when Papa is playing. It’s adorable. We may get you a baby piano when you’re a bit older, if you’ve expressed particular interest in the instrument and find the adult-sized keyboard to be too large for your small hands.
Papa also plays a lot of music videos, so you have an array of music to listen to and watch. You definitely enjoy music, and we believe that you will play an instrument simply because you are already showing interest in both guitar and keyboard. We will ensure that you have instruments to practice with, and if you decide it’s not for you, so be it. This is your life.
You do not belong to me or Papa. You are a human being. You belong to yourself. It is merely our honor and privilege to introduce you to and guide you through the world. We will do our best not to lay expectations on you for where we want your life to go.
Of course, we are your parents and certainly have hopes for your life. We want you to be happy and prosperous, to be financially independent and resourceful, to be imaginative and action-oriented, to be proactive and open. It is not for us to say how these things manifest in your life — that is for you to determine. We only hope that you live long and well, that you are loved by many – most especially by yourself – and that you remain true to who you are. We hope that you listen to your soul, heed it’s call, and don’t give anybody the power to crush it.
I hope that you and I have a close relationship. I will always be your mother first, but in time, I hope I will also be your friend. I hope that I am able to see your evolution from birth to old age. I want to walk this life with you. I want to be there for everything in your life, big or small. I want you to always know that I am here for you and will do my best to pull through for you (I’m allowing for the fact that I am human and cannot predict the future). I hope that you will want me by your side throughout your life, and that if you come to think of me in your teen years as insufferable, embarrassing, maddening, and altogether uncool, I hope you will circle back to me as you grow to womanhood and welcome me again with open arms.
I want to show you what love is, Sweet Ayla.
You are it.
I am it.
Love is a choice. It is a decision. A series of actions. Love can also be felt, but more than feelings, it is how you respond to those feelings. Actions, as you will certainly come to learn, speak so much more authentically than words alone. Words are important, to be sure, but if you only use one way to express your love — actions versus words — actions will carry you farther and be more believable to those you are loving on.
I love you, my dear. I am so honored to be your mother. I hope that I don’t let you down. I know I am human, and therefore likely to hurt you in some way. Please know that it will not be intentional. Please also tell me when this happens. If I don’t know about it, I can’t address it. There might be more to the story that I haven’t shared and ought to, or there may be a perspective you didn’t have and so misunderstood my action or word. We cannot heal a hurt unless we come together and remain open about it, with no judgment of each other or ourselves.
I am so blessed to be able to wake up to you every morning. You bring light into my life, and I’m through the moon that you have joined me on this journey through life. You are teaching me just as I am teaching you. Our relationship is symbiotic, and everyday I feel a little closer to you.
I must go, Button, and try to sleep. You have fallen asleep, and I’m not sure how sleep will go for either of us tonight, though we undoubtedly could both use some solid rest.
I love you, Baby Girl.