WAITING FOR THE WORST, a humbling lesson in trust

There’s an old line about assuming and it’s really living up to its promise lately when it comes to my parenting.

While folding the laundry (my grown up version of elementary school’s “song that never ends”) during Babygirl’s nap, the Bug wandered in to see what I was doing. As he reached for a neatly folded stack of size 2T pants that I immediately envisioned being capsized onto the floor, I blurted out, “Please leave those,” at the same time as he gleefully said, “I will help you put these in my room, Mommy.” While I stood there, flabbergasted and feeling like the first syllable of an assumer, he carefully carried them to his room and put them away right where they go.

Why had I assumed the worst?

Riding in the stroller with their seats facing each other, the Bug held out a pinwheel toward Babygirl and, as soon as she reached for it, pulled it away and laughed.

Why is he taunting her? I thought. How cruel!

As he held it out again, I asked, (I thought rhetorically), “Do you think she likes that?”

“She does!” He exclaimed. “It’s a game!” and pulled it away. Sure enough, she squealed with laughter and reached out, missing again to their mutual delight.

Again, why had I assumed the worst?

While watching the kids “play chef” (which, as it turns out, is actually just jumping on the couch in a chef’s jacket and hat), I saw Babygirl teeter on the edge for a moment. The Bug lunged toward her and I did the same, sure he intended to nudge her over the edge.

But then, in the moment before I could catch her, he did.

He didn’t want to hurt her; he wanted to help. And I assumed, again, the worst.

This evening, while playing in the back yard after dinner, Babygirl held fast to the giant shovel, leaving Bug less than thrilled about wielding the giant rake. They were playing some variant of hockey when Babygirl tripped and fell, hard, the shovel flying a good five feet in front of her. Immediately, her brother ran toward the shovel.

Here we go, I though, all but rolling my eyes, He sees his opening to get his hands on that shovel.

As I braced myself to deal with the fallout of the Bug snatching Babygirl’s shovel while she was down, I watched him walk over to her, help her up, and hand it back to her.

A beautiful moment of compassion between siblings, tainted by their mother assuming the worst.

Has this become my default?! I wondered, fairly mortified, as I watched my sweet Babygirl pull herself together and beam at the brother she never doubted.

Of course there are times the Bug does things I wish he wouldn’t (he is newly-three, after all), but the vast majority of the time, that isn’t the case. He is truly the most wonderful boy I have ever known – thoughtful, funny, kind, and brave. For every time he runs past his sister’s high chair and grabs the last piece of her snack, there is another that he sees she’s finished her ice cream and offers her a bite of his. For every time he plows her down in the throes of a pillow fight, there are two that he comes running with her lovey when she falls. Why, in moments of uncertainty, do I find it so hard to trust him?

Trust and respect are the cornerstone of my parenting. It comes naturally to me to trust the Bug to climb a tree, troubleshoot how to put his own pants on, learn to ride a bike, or help me make waffles. I trusted my children to crawl, sit, walk, and talk in their own time. When the Bug started speaking sentences and referred to himself as “you,” I never corrected him because I trusted that he would learn to replace it with “I” and “me” as his observations of how people speak became more astute. (Still waiting for him to figure out the difference between “she” and “her,” but I’m doing my best to trust!) I never “taught” my children colors, counting, or their ABC’s because I trusted that they would organically pick those things up through their experiences.

But catching myself in these moments that I’m assuming he’ll make the “wrong” choice is revealing to me that my trust is lacking where he needs it the most. No, I don’t like what it communicates to a child about his intelligence or about the nature of learning when a parent quizzes him to identify his colors. But that’s nothing compared to what is certainly communicated by a parent brimming with anxiety that her child will hurt or take advantage of those he loves the most…and isn’t that exactly what it tells him when I reach out to catch his sister before she’s even been pushed?

Yes, it is my job to protect my daughter (sometimes, legitimately, from her brother), but I can’t let myself do that at my son’s expense. The Bug is as tough as they come, but it’s my job to protect him as well – not just his body, but his heart and his spirit. He needs me to tell him, through my words and my actions, that he is good. That I trust him. That he is capable of making the right choices. I thought I was doing that, but now I’m not so sure.

A disappointing and humbling surprise.

So tonight, whatever sleep Babygirl will permit me. And tomorrow, more grace. For us all.

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