Friday, June 5, 2009
Compliments from the mouths of babes
I had to look twice at the Mothers’ Day card my six-year-old daughter made for me to be sure I was reading it right. Slanted crayon letters in bright red made the message clear: “Mommy, you rock!”
There are many compliments Holly could have written on a Mothers Day card that I would have graciously accepted. “Mommy, you’re nice; Mommy, you’re fair; Mommy, you take good care of us; Mommy, you’re a creative thinker with a well-balanced approach to life.”
Oh, it’s not that I don’t like the “Mommy, you rock” message. It’s just that anyone who knows me will acknowledge that the compliment is quite frankly preposterous. I write; I cook; I nurture; I comfort; I host. But I don’t rock. I just don’t. And no one except for a six-year-old in search of a Mothers Day compliment would ever say I did.
This is so often the case with the compliments our children give us. Their words can be off-the-wall, and at the same time so sincere. My friends and I use the same words over and over again to praise each other: “You look great! Nice outfit! Great party! What a wonderful meal!” The younger set has no patience for these simple platitudes. And yet what they say, odd as it sometimes comes out, can be so meaningful.
When my niece, Sophie, was six, she wrote one of those poems for her mother in which the first letter of each line of the poem spelled out Lauren’s name. For the “U,” she used “Usually comes up with good options.” Not yet having children myself at the time, I puzzled over that one for quite a while. That’s an asset? Only years later, bargaining with preschoolers of my own, did I realize how much time mothers spend coming up with choices and alternatives. Indeed, to a six-year-old, “Usually comes up with good options” is a fine compliment indeed, and not only because it begins with the requisite “U” to fit into the name poem. Children have their own ideas as to what about us impresses them, and it can be quite revealing to find out what these are. When Holly was about three, she once remarked with a contented sigh, “I just love Daddy.” “Because he’s so nice and takes such good care of us?” I asked her. “No, because he has such thick black hair,” she responded with absolute sincerity.
Other times, children’s compliments reveal not so much what they think of us as what really matters to them. When my cousin’s son, Noah, was a little boy, he once asked me to make a big smile so that he could see my teeth. He studied my smile for a moment and said approvingly, “They look like baleen!” “Baleen?” I asked my cousin, not familiar with the word. “Whales’ teeth,” she explained. “Big strong square things suitable for straining out seawater while filtering in plankton and other forms of marine-based protein.” I must have still looked puzzled, because she said, “It’s a compliment. He loves whales.” Noah is 17 now; I’m guessing he’s found other words with which to compliment women, but you never know.
And the fact is, we parents sometimes give odd compliments ourselves without realizing it. Tired of the endless, “What a beautiful drawing!” that I felt required to bestow upon every piece of artwork my children created when they were younger, I found myself saying “Interesting combination of colors!” and “I like how gently you treated the paper!” as alternatives.
And then once in a while we catch ourselves saying things to or about our kids that are a little bizarre. When my son Tim was in kindergarten, he wanted to invite a new friend over to play, so I called the friend’s mother. She turned us down apologetically, admitting that her son was shy and wary of playing with boys he didn’t know well. “He’s going through a phase where he’ll accept invitations only from girls, or from Peter,” she told me, referring to another classmate of theirs. Indignant, I burst out, “Tim is WAY more like a girl than Peter is!” There was a long silence as we both pondered what I had just said. Then the other mom said in a rather cautious tone, “He and Peter went to preschool together.”
I put the Mothers Day card with my collection of cards designed by my children, and I look back at it often. “Mommy, you rock!” I know it’s not exactly true. Anyone who knows me would agree it’s not exactly true. But it reflects Holly’s wish to give me an enthusiastic compliment, and so maybe for just a little while, until Mothers Day is a little farther behind us, I’ll take it. I’ll imagine that she’s right, and that despite all evidence to the contrary, I really do in fact rock. ∆
© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito