A fellow parent called me this morning. She's the kind of parent I say hello to at social events, but we never speak for more than a few minutes. Our daughters (9 years old now) are in the same grade and they were in the same class two years ago. They're also in Brownies together. Otherwise, their paths don't often cross.
So I was surprised by the phone call. She started with, "I just want to bring your attention to something that happened yesterday during the Brownie field trip."
And those of you who are parents can probably imagine what I thought: "Oh, no, what did my daughter do?"
Now, my daughter is a good girl. Truly. She's kind and sweet. She thinks the best of everyone around her. She loves everyone around her, even the mean girls who tell her she's fat or make fun of her for still loving Hello Kitty. She's big on giving people second and third and millionth chances. She wakes up at 6 a.m. every morning because she's excited about what that day holds, even if there's nothing special on our schedule: to her it's all special. She skips down the sidewalk, tripping over her two left feet most days. She laughs until she cries. And she gives hugs because she figures everyone needs them as much as she does.
Still, I braced myself to hear what she might have done yesterday that would warrant a call from another parent, because that's our instinct as parents: to believe the best but to be ready for the worst, because we need to be able to defend our children against the world and to be prepared for our children to have been the one doing the wrong--because that's what we're used to having to do.
It's so easy for the world to spoil kids, to take something wonderful and pure and then slowly or suddenly damage it--to teach them words at six that we didn't hear until we were sixteen, or even to teach them too-common words that make them reassess themselves and others, such as "stupid" and "shut up" and "idiot" and "hate." And there are the actions and attitudes the world teaches them as well: hatred, bigotry, revenge, boastfulness. So we're always on our guard, trying to stifle the parroting nature of a child and begging them and God and whomever else might be listening, "Please, please, let my apple-cheeked daughter stay apple cheeked and innocent." And also, "Just in case she doesn't, help me know how to teach her the right things over and over, again and again."
This mother said, before telling me what happened, that she knows too often she focuses on what her own daughter might be doing wrong. And I felt guilty instantly--guilty for, in spite of knowing how wonderful my daughter is, not praising her enough for her kind heart, guilty for doing the same thing this mother does and the same thing parents everywhere do, whether it's silently or loudly criticizing our children for not working hard enough, not studying hard enough, or not simply trying hard enough.
The reason she called was to tell me how gentle my daughter had been with a friend who was struggling during yesterday's hike. She wanted to let me know she'd seen my daughter doing something good and decent and kind. She made time in her busy morning (I could hear the doorbell and the chaos of kids in the background) to look up my number and to call me. From one mother to another, she wanted to let me know she understood how much we want to know our kids are okay and are doing right, even if our instinct is to fear the opposite.
Our children aren't perfect. And I'm grateful they aren't because then they'd expect us to be as well. But I'm also grateful they have moments of perfection, moments when we can see the clean spots the world has missed and we can be reminded to notice those clean spots and moments more often.