If you grew up like I did, you were constantly bombarded with old idioms or sayings that were seemingly handed down through the generations as if they were family heirlooms. “The early bird catches the worm”, “Waste not, want not”, “A bird in the hand is worth two in a bush”. In those days, it seemed like few people knew what was trying to be conveyed and as children, we had no clue either so, we often had to use context to discern their meanings. One of my favorites used by my mom, like it was going out of style, was “A blessing in disguise”. I recall as a child wondering why blessing are always disguising themselves – why don’t they want to be recognized?
Flash forward to today, I find myself using the same ones from my youth, except that now I have the benefit of the internet. So, when my naturally inquisitive daughter looks at me puzzled after I use one of these time honored idioms, I have the ability to actually sound like I know what I am talking about when attempting to explain their meanings. On a separate note, have you ever used one of these “sayings” only to realize you were using it wrongly? For me it was “a method to my madness” which at the time, I incorrectly thought it had something to do with actually being mad and the way one goes about being mad. But I digress. As adults and more specifically parents, we tend to rattle these off to our children as valuable life lessons in neatly wrapped expressions but, there are times, when we have to be reminded of the essence of these very sayings and put ourselves in check. Such was the case for me this past weekend at the hands of my daughter.
It’s in these moments that I remember that children serve as such unapologetic sources of keeping us parents “grounded”. Just when you think you know it all, have it all sorted out and can anticipate every move, children come along to remind you that YOU DON’T KNOW, WHAT YOU THINK YOU KNOW. My daughter seems to have perfected the ability to skin me down raw to my essential elements exposing the vast amount work that I still have to do on my road to becoming a better Dad and a better man. And she can do all of this with the grace and poise that only a toddler can possess (insert sarcasm)!
We decided to celebrate President’s Day at the happiest place on earth – Disneyland! As is customary in our family, we had a very loose itinerary filled with the rides and attractions we planned to visit. And, like most parents who frequent amusement parks, we were also keenly aware of where the nearest restrooms were at all times. (now for you parents of toddlers, don’t get ahead of me on this because there are other readers out there who may not know where we are going) I am convinced that toddlers are obsessed with going to the restroom, especially in a place like Disneyland and especially on a crowded day like a National holiday! Perhaps it’s their tiny bladders combined with the sheer excitement of being at Disneyland that results in the frequent visits, to the point where it feels like you have waited in line for a restroom stall longer than you have waited to actually get on some of the rides! Whatever the case may be, the law of averages and Murphy would suggest that no matter how expertly you prepare and plan for restroom breaks (hey, I even have an app that locates the nearest restroom!) at some point you will inevitably fail miserably when your daughter has to go to the restroom while you are in the middle of a line. Add to that the fact that the lines at Disneyland are not conducive to such a situation…hmm, I might have a new invention on my hands come to think of it…add to that the fact that she used the restroom only 15 minutes prior to that, add to that the fact that we are now climbing over railings and ducking under ropes because “it can’t wait!!!” – equals one stressed out and slightly annoyed Dad!
As I traversed the gauntlet of the Disneyland ride line and anxiously made my way to the restrooms daring not to test the validity of the “it can’t wait” line uttered by my daughter, she began to whimper. Probably sensing my anxiousness from the unapologetic looks from the other men waiting in line for the stalls, my daughter begins to cry. As we entered the stall I remember thinking to myself, “Why is she crying, I should be the one crying”, but then it dawned on me that she was feeling bad about the circumstances surrounding her need to use the restroom and the visible (and most likely audible) frustration it was causing me – she put the weight of all of this on her shoulders! Feeling like a lowly piece of scum, like the kind you find in one of those bathrooms, she looked at me with those beautiful brown teary eyes and said, “Papi, please be patient with me”. Just…about…lost…it, right there in the Disneyland bathroom!
Instantly, I was reminded of a phrase I heard so frequently as a child and that I have used a time or two before, “Patience is a virtue”. In that moment, my daughter reminded me of the virtuosity of being patient, not only with her, but in general. I neglected to recognize that in my role as Dad, I not only have the obligation to teach my daughter virtues and valuable life lessons through the use of sayings but, that I also have an obligation to LIVE virtuously and be an example of those life lessons. All too often we parents fall in to the “do as I say” trap. It is not always as blatant as telling your kid not to smoke while lighting up a cigarette – but sometimes it appears more subtly in the form of these idioms or sayings that we tell to our children, but we fail to live by. We need to be mindful that our children are more likely to emulate our behavior than the words we choose to describe that behavior. This experience has certainly showed me that I need to step my game up!
I want to hear from you, what experiences have you had when you recognized that the very behavior you required from your children is the very behavior you were not portraying.