Some friends of ours who don’t have kids recently asked what is hardest about parenting. I stumbled over words trying to figure out the answer to this, and it wasn’t until several days later that I remembered what I should have said.
The hardest part of parenting Eleanor is watching other children be unkind to her. Babies are born knowing how to kick, scream, hit, and bite. As soon as Eleanor’s first two teeth erupted, she started biting me, and my pained face sent her into giggling fits. So cruel, right? At this point, I’m used to seeing other kids push her and pinch her, and all of that physical violence is easy enough to mend.
What’s much harder to fix are the words that 3- and 4-year-olds start to hurl at each other. We were at the pool the other day, and Eleanor, who is always looking for friends, was trying to get another little girl to play with her. After several minutes, the girl became frustrated with Eleanor’s tailgating and said: “Stop following me. I don’t like you!”
My eyes started to burn with tears as I watched Eleanor’s reaction. Children aren’t born knowing how to speak cruelly. They pick it up from adults, older siblings, and television. Eleanor is no angel, but she hasn’t spent much time around older kids, and we limit her TV, so she’s innocent compared to many 3-year-olds. She’s sometimes lonely at home, and she still thinks every child she meets will want to be her friend. When I watch other children chip away at that innocence, I feel my heart collapse.
That’s not to say I feel hopeless. Her innocence will wane, I know, but she has so many good people in her life — children and adults — that I think we might be able to usher her to adulthood with some of the sweetness intact.
(Thanks to Greg for the photos!)