Friday, May 10, 2013

Let Us Oft Speak Kind Words to Each Other

My therapist was surprised when I told her I wouldn't change one thing about my childhood.

She said it doesn't happen too often.

The evidence supports my claim, however, because my parents and my sisters and I form the closest-knit family I have ever known. We are in constant contact, we support each other in every endeavor and trial, and we are incredibly open about what is going on in our lives. I purport that our relationship wouldn't be as healthy if my childhood and that of my sisters was not idyllic.

In trying to create this kinship in my own little family, I examined the actions of my parents and tried to mimic them. Jacko was a tiny baby when I had an "Aha" moment that I have since followed:

My childhood home was filled with kind and loving speech.

The list of no-no words was long, including "suck" and "stupid," and there was more than one occurrence of an impassioned "BE QUIET!" since "shut up" was also verboten. But the house rules weren't solely keeping the negative words out; my sisters and I were encouraged, both directly and by my parents' example, to say positive things about each other and our surroundings. That kind of talk let us learn to express our feelings and be proud of who we are.

If I wanted those things for my children, I knew I had to work hard to instill kind and loving speech in our home. My first decision was to say "yes" to my children instead of "yeah"; the latter could be construed as sarcastic or dismissive, and I wanted to let my kids know that they were being heard and respected. When Jacko became mobile, I decided to tell him "no, thank you" instead of simply "no" (though "NO!" would often come in times of danger). From there, my personal positive-speech practice has grown into hundreds of rules—kindly explaining my reasoning when making decisions, saying "I love you" enough to smother them, vocally admiring the beauty of the earth, pointing out their generous and unprompted service. My whole day is filled with split-second decisions to keep a happy tone of voice and to engage my children in intellectual, positive conversation.

It can be exhausting.

But it's worth it.

Yesterday, at Target, I asked Jacko if he would like to get an Amazing Hulk t-shirt. He responded, "No, I'd prefer something more stylish." A lady in her fifties was on the other side of the rack; she tittered and we exchanged that knowing, adult glance of Aren't Kids Funny. I put the Hulk shirt back and searched for another option. The woman lingered. She looked again at me, caught my eye, and said, "I have been listening to you. It has been refreshing to hear you speak so nicely to your children; I don't often hear that when I am shopping. Many parents are so mean and rude to their kids. You're not. You have restored some of my faith in today's parents."

Between her statements, I was inserting platitudes like, "Look at these kids, how could I not be nice?" and "They're smart kids, so it's fun to talk with them"; however, she chugged along, trying to let me see how appreciative she was. I finally thanked her and asked the kids to wish her a happy day. My mind turned over what she had said, searching for an appropriate feeling to affix to it all.

I decided to be proud.

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