Wednesday, December 5, 2012

You Don't Have to Like Everybody

I left out part of our conversation yesterday in my post about teaching Katie the art of nonviolence in our violent world.  I didn't think it was relevant to the topic, the essay was already way too long, and I had to get to work, so I skipped past it.  But then this happened and I realized the part I left out might be the most important lesson of all.

Will just got home from work.  I had just stepped out of the shower after a full day of writing.  After I threw on some clothes, we walked to Katie's school together, shuffling our feet through the leaves along the sidewalk and chatting about our day under the intense blue, late-autumn sky.  In the mornings we're usually rushing around and one of us ends up driving Katie the three blocks to school.  Our afternoons are more relaxed, so we can enjoy a stroll through our neighborhood to pick up our girl.

Katie saw Will first.  He's tall; I'm short.  Then she saw me and called out, "Mom, Dad!"  As she was rushing over toward us, another girl bumped into Katie, nearly knocking the note she was carrying out of her hand.  Katie growled at the girl.  The girl, taller and more mature, just looked at Katie the way our Great Pyrenees mix used to look at our Maltese when the little dog growled at our gentle giant.  Katie made an overly dramatic gesture like she was swooping up the note that nearly fell out of her hand, turned her head back toward us and walked on.

While we hugged, I said, "Hey, Punk, you don't have to growl at people who accidentally bump into you."

"Sorry, Mommy," she said, stepping back, her head hung low.

I pulled her back toward me to finish the hug.  "It's OK.  Just try to understand that most people don't mean to make you mad.  When they do it's usually on accident.  What's this note in your hand?"

She smiled and handed it over, then took off down the sidewalk toward our house.  Will took her backpack from her and strapped the pink and purple flowery owl print thing to his own big manly back.  I love him so much.

I looked down at the note and laughed:

Evidently it was "excellent" until some big girl bumped into her.

"What's this?" I called out and upped my pace to catch up to them.

Katie looked back at me to see what I was talking about.  I held up the note and smiled, "Why do you think Ms. B wanted us to know you had an excellent day today?"

"I dunno."

That's generally about all I get out of Katie right after school.  At first, last year when we'd pick her up from kindergarten, I would kind of get my feelings hurt that Katie wasn't excited to tell me all about her day the second I saw her.  I didn't have a kid until I was thirty-five.  That means it's been a long time since I was a kid myself and so sometimes kids are fucking confusing.  So I gave up trying to get her to talk right after school and let her talk to me when she's ready.  Usually right before bedtime or when we're in the car and there's nothing else to do.  

Then, after a busy day at work where it felt like I had answered 2,000 questions and I just wanted a moment to myself for some peace and quiet, it occurred to me that it must be hard to listen to a teacher and 20 other kids talking for seven hours and then come home and listen to your mom yammer on with questions when you really just want a moment to yourself.

When we got home and Katie had run around the yard a bit, I grabbed a sandwich and a cup of coffee and sat on our front patio swing to watch her before I had to leave for work.  She came over and sat next to me, swinging us with one leg.

"Look how strong my leg is, Mom!"

"Yep," I agreed.  It felt like a good time to bring up the note again, so I asked, "Hey, why do you think Ms. B. wanted us to know you had an excellent day?"

She kept swinging her leg, her body now twisted so her head could fit on my lap.  She was starring at the sky.  After a few quiet seconds she said, "Because I was calm today."

"You didn't yell in anyone's face?"  I smiled.  

Katie looked at me and laughed in a way that sounded slightly embarrassed.  "No.  I didn't yell in anyone's face today."

"Did you see Brady at recess today?"  I asked, stroking her hair.  


"Did you guys play together?"

"No.  Remember?  You said I don't have to like everybody."

"I did?"  I thought back to our last few days' worth of conversations.  When did I say that?

"At dinner yesterday," Katie answered my unasked question.  "You said I should say sorry to Brady for yelling at his face but that it's OK to walk away from people who aggravate me."

"--Oooh, aggravate.  Good word." I interrupted.  Oh yeah, now I remember the conversation.  "Yes, you were telling me that you love everybody but you don't like everybody, and I said I feel the same way and that's OK to feel that way."

"Yes," Katie said, sitting up, swinging with both legs now.  "You said it's good to love everybody but you don't have to like everybody."

"Yes, that's true.  Do you think you were calmer today because we talked about that yesterday?"  I was really just fishing for parenting compliments now.

"Yeah.  I think so," Katie said, laying her head back down in my lap so she'd have a better view of the sky.  It really was an excellent day.