Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Keepin' it Real

My husband got me Kal Barteski's book 'love life' for Christmas. I had asked for it because I am a huge fan of Kal's art and wanted to be able to look at her lovely little drawings all the livelong day. (If you're not familiar with her, you should check her blog out - she's delightful). Anyway. I knew I would love the art, but the little stories connected to each piece turned out to be the real gems.

One in particular stuck out for me.

It was about a boy who wanted to feed chocolate to a fish. He loved this fish and wanted to give it a treat. What better treat than chocolate, no? But the fish ignored the chocolate, finding no appeal in it. At first the boy was offended. His heartfelt gift - the best he had to offer - had been rejected. Then his mother helped him come to the conclusion that - while chocolate is a fine treat for a little boy it provides no such joy for a fish. The fish needed to be treated with something that would give it pleasure - something which would probably not be viewed as a treat at all by a little boy. Or a human, for that matter. The moral of the story was that we might need to tweak the Golden Rule sometimes.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

becoming, rather:

Do unto others what they need.

I love this sentiment. What I need to get through something might not be what you need. So, when reaching out, consider the needs of the recipient - not necessarily what your needs would be in the same situation.

Sometimes we get it wrong, though.

My youngest daughter is a cuddler. She likes to sit close and snuggle in. She likes hugs and kisses and gives and receives both with abandon. My eldest? Not so much. We always say she allows herself to be hugged. And even that, only sometimes. She stiffens beneath my embrace and usually tries to escape it. Clearly she is not a fan of physical affection (at least not from the adults who love her - among her peers it's a whole different ball game). So I gave her less, not wanting to impose upon her. I tried to express my love for her in other ways. Tried to give her what I thought she needed, not what I needed myself.

Then, one heartbreaking day, she said to me, "Why do you love Olivia more than you love me?"

"Why in the world would you say such a thing?"

"You hug and kiss her more. You almost never hug and kiss me."

Well, the child had a point. I surely did hug and kiss her less. I thought I was being respectful of her wishes, since she always expressed such disdain when hugs and kisses were imposed upon her. Turns out I was hurting her feelings and sending a very different message from the one I had intended. So now I hug and kiss her. A lot. She rarely responds to it - unless you count eye-rolling as a response - but I have learned that it is indeed what she needs.

And one more example of letting my own perspective get in the way of what's real:

I was teaching job skills to high school students with special needs. One of my students, a young man with Down's Syndrome, informed me one day that he loved one of the girls in our class and that he was going to marry her. His classroom teacher overheard him sharing this information with me and inserted herself into the conversation.

"We've talked about this before - what do you need to do before you can get married?"

As his job skills teacher, I was pretty confident that she meant he would need to get a job, and I nodded affirmatively. His answer threw me for a loop. He slightly bowed his head and mumbled, "I need to learn to tie my shoes."

Indeed.

So I guess we'll further tweak the old platitude: Do unto others what they need, but make sure you know what they need, first.

14 comments:

Bass Is Life said...

Of course, being who I am, the first thing I thought when I read Do unto others what they need was "Well, they need to be saved! Hallelujah!" So, yeah, that one doesn't work.

Alex the Girl said...

Talk about keeping it in perspective. Being with children, whether it's your own or others can be a humbling experience. Just sitting here thinking about what you wrote, I can add my husband to that list as well. Good thoughts for the day.

Housewife Savant said...

Wow, Tammy. I [heart] you. You keep it real and I'll stick to writing crap. Call it using our gifts.
Alex mentions thinking about our Mr and His Needs.
I could probably Go There with a flippant remark, but this is pensive Savant. Not Smarta**.
Great post!

Brandy said...

You know after reading this I can see myself in the teen vs. kid scenario. It makes me wonder if it's something that they notice. Guess it's time I find out what they need...

Thanks for sharing this sentiment.

Anita said...

Hi Tammy, thanks for stopping by! I'm a mom of three and they all have different needs, and on a good day, I get it right but most days I struggle to give them each what they need.
Have a great day SITSTA (I would never say this in real life btw).lol

Gibby said...

OMG, I am sitting here with goosebumps, because my girls are exactly like yours when it comes to physical affection. We pretty much eat our younger one up because she likes it and we like it. My older daughter pulls away and has a HUGE personal space. So I usually respect that space. Maybe I should invade that space a little more...

Awesome post.

Pam said...

Figuring out what each of your kids really needs from day to day is one of the biggest challenges of motherhood. But, my guess is that if you are even thinking about this, you are probably doing a pretty good job as it is!

cass said...

Oh Tamlu! I have had the same conversation with mine- but lsightly backwards in a sense. When I am trying to make them see how poeple love them, and when it isn't fitting their expectations. (Now reading your angle I wonder if I am doing a disservice to mine teaching them this philoshy.. but I will share none the less perhaps to have the chance to expnad my veiws as well..)
My youngest was compklaining how his dad did this or that or how he didn't liek certian things. I gently pointed out that his dad loves him and that he is trying. (And here is my philosphy- wrong as it may be- ) I told him- if your dad was a robin and he loved you he would build you the best nest a robin could build you. It may not be what you need EXACTLY, but its the best he can give. And that you need to see the gift in the gift, the intention even if it misses the mark. A robin nest may not be your ideal home, but its how he know how to love and he is trying. When he knows better he does better.
I know, slightly warped to expect a child to know people are short sided in their decisions at times when for childhood it should be an open party, but life is hard sometimes and dealing with it comes easier if you know poeple try and fail, and people will try again as long as you appreciate the efforts.
Kepp hugging, keep loving your girls- my friend once said- as a teeneager, we want to be loved, not suffocated, but never ignored. Quite the balancing act for us parents, but one worth attempting, falling off of and trying again.

Tammy Howard said...

Y'know, Tom made a similar point privately - that the intention was what was important. And that, in the example of the fish, it wasn't the desire to give it a treat that was off, just the choice of treat. Maybe he'll jump in here and clarify a little bit...

Bass Is Life said...

Ok, since you asked...

Going back to my example above, I prefer Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. I would prefer people respect my beliefs (or lack thereof), so I respect theirs. When I find myself in a position where others are exhibiting their faith (wedding, funeral, Bat Mitzvah, etc.), I do my best to respect their customs and learn what I can of them so that I may understand them better.

When it comes to something like a treat, I wouldn't give Olivia a Slim Jim, because that isn't a treat for her. But Lea would love one. If I want to offer a new experience to someone, I do so with an understanding that they may not enjoy it the way I do, and that's ok.

Of course, following this, I don't hug Lea very often because she moves away from hugs. She demonstrates a desire for space, so I give it to her. So on that, I fail.

My porn name? Casper Merritt.

Bass Is Life said...

Oh, wait. Porn name was a different post. Sorry.

cass said...

oh- my new groovy porn name- Lady Royal- sounds like I own Molly Hester's brothel.

cass said...

I like Mr Toms philosophy- but would point out that I do not think he is failing at the time- space -hug decision level- its all offered in love and that never fails.
(and Tam I swear I will spell check- I suck I know)

Tammy Howard said...

Aw, did you notice my FB 'I judge you when you use bad grammar' group?

:-)

I kid - I don't judge anyone when they're taking the time to chat with me. (I do judge billboards and print ads and such, though, and rather mercilessly)

And I think we're all sort of saying the same thing - follow your instincts - know you love them - let them know you love them.