Easily one of the most important jobs I take on as a mother is to see life through the eyes of my child. I don’t know that I ever tried to walk in anyone else’s shoes before I met my husband. I’m not saying I was a bad person per se; I did a lot of good for a lot of people. I just didn’t spend a lot of time looking at things from other people’s perspectives. My idea of what was right and what was wrong was clear. I didn’t need to see through someone else’s eyes.
When I met Carlos, he was always soothing my self righteousness.
“I can’t believe she would do that!” I would say about some coworker or family member.
“Well,” he would begin calmly. “Imagine if you were her.”
And he would walk me down a road of deep empathy, the like I had never seen.
In a weird way, I think it is largely in part because of that quality that Carlos has that I now think about how my children see things before I act.
When my baby is crying, I think of how she must feel, alone in her crib in her room, without me. When she is smacking her sister in the face while I am hugging her big sister, I think of how jealous she must be to see her mother, her whole world, loving someone else. And when she cries, reaching for me, when I hand her to her father, I think of her hurt, her heart. So I often take her back.
She loves her papa. It’s just that papa isn’t mama. But papa will do in a pinch.
Sure, I can’t always give in and indulge her. I have to set boundaries. I have to go to work. I do not intend to have her in my bed forever. She will learn independence for her own good. But I can make it easier on her, smooth the transition, kiss her hurts whenever possible. Because when I see life through the eyes of my child, I imagine what it must be like to be her, no words, no knowledge, only instinct, only wanting her mama.
Then there is my five year old.
I have spent almost six years practicing this cross between empathy and boundaries with Celaya.
Like I said, I am not a family bed kind of mom. I sleep better, once my kids are toddlers, with them in their beds and me in my bed. I am working on the transition with my one year old now.
But if Celaya could sleep with me every single night, she would.
She is only allowed to sleep with me when she is sick or when we have a late night party. My bedroom is at the far end of the house and the noise from the front of the house doesn’t reach back there.
If she could have me all to herself, she would.
She is all about “mama time.” And I accommodate her as best I can.
We do pedicures; we read a lot together; we go on movie dates; we cuddle in the mornings, or now when her sister naps. Whenever she reaches for me, even at the end of the day when I really would rather not have another body on me, I reach back. I open my arms. I hold her tight.
Because if I were her, that’s what I would want my mama to do.
It is largely why I decided to homeschool. My daughter is bright and funny and super social. She is also deeply empathetic like her father, sensitive, and incredibly naive. It takes her a while to realize another kid is being unkind to her.
She is not competitive. She could care less who runs faster or who wins at a game. She, for the most part, does her own thing and just wants to have fun.
As a curious kid, asking question all day long, like many kids her age, she deserves to have her curiosity fed and nurtured, not shut down in the interest of schedules and outlines.
When I see the world through her eyes, and then I see the education system as I went through it and as my students go through it, I know, deep down with all the mother/teacher inside me, that a formal education system would destroy her free spirit.
So I keep her home.
Sure, she is enrolled in many classes, dance, soccer, art, and soon science and math and engineering, but they are on our terms, on our schedule, and we can leave when we feel like it.
The idea for this entire essay came to me recently when I took her to see the San Francisco Ballet perform The Nutcracker for the first time.
I often see posts on social media that say things like “Don’t compare your real life to someone else’s highlight reel.”
You hear often of the inauthenticity of social media, of Instagram in particular. People only post the positives. Moms are yelling at their kids one minute and then everyone is smiling for the picture the next. Families only do certain things for the photo ops.
All of that has always rung false to me.
First of all, I make a big point to be as authentic as possible, hence the name of my website.
Second, if social media has anything to do with activities and events for my family it is more inspirational. I love seeing what other people are doing with their families. I get ideas from social media.
“Ooooh! That looks fun! Let’s do that!”
And finally, any activity I plan, any event we go to, any decision I make for my kids, always always factors in what it will look like through my kids’ eyes.
I didn’t want to go to the damn Oakland Zoo with an infant this year. But I did, because I knew my five year old would sparkle from the inside out at seeing her zoo all lit up at night.
I sliced my thumb open a few weeks ago, in the middle of finals, on a work day, exhausted, probably in desperate need of stitches, but Celaya got big tears in her eyes at the thought of us missing the crafts I had promised her. So I bound my thumb up with gauze and scotch tape (scotch tape!) and we made some fabulous Christmas trees, if I do say so myself.
When the opportunity to go to The Nutcracker came up after all these years wanting to take her, I pictured it through her eyes, and I bought the tickets.
We had taken her to children’s productions before, and they were fun. But this was a big deal.
The San Francisco Ballet recommends children be five years old to attend, so I waited.
I told her about it well in advance, to build up the excitement.
We got all dressed up; I left breastmilk at home with Carlos for Matilda; and we headed over the bridge for dinner and the ballet in San Francisco.
Dinner was fun at Max’s Opera Cafe; we had burgers and split a brownie sundae.
She held my hand and bubbled over with excitement as we entered the War Memorial.
I bought our tickets in the very front row of the balcony, so she could lean on the balcony rail and look over the edge to watch the show.
And it was perfect. I got to see the San Francisco Ballet for the very first time myself, but I saw it all through her eyes.
Yes, she talked the whole time, quietly.
She wanted the giant Rice Krispy treat with chocolate chips at intermission, of course.
And by the end of the show she looks over at me and says “my hands hurt from all the clapping.”
But this was our year. And each year we have done new special things for her, with her, because of her, because we see life through her eyes.
Life can be hard. There are some things that we just cannot avoid, like, sadly, growing up.
So I want to make it as sweet, as special, as fun, for my daughters as I can; I want their memories to be about all the things their parents did with them that made the days special.
Sometimes it is simple pedicures on the patio, or an extra long book at night. Sometimes it is getting to come to work with mama on a slow day. Sometimes it is plopping a few chocolate chips into the multigrain pancakes for breakfast.
And sometimes it is whirlwind fancy trips into the city, sharing a sundae with mama, watching the ballet, staying up late, and falling asleep before we even hit the bridge on the way home.