Kaspar became fascinated with his belly button a couple of months ago. He was aware of his own body long before that, of course-- he'd discovered his toes, for instance, at about the time all infants do-- but his belly button was a whole different game. He wanted to show it to everyone. And then he'd go looking for theirs. This passing fixation seemed to signal his increased sense of himself in relationship to the world around him-- both in terms of his connectedness, and his individuality. I've noticed this sense continue to develop, too, in the weeks since.
Most recently, Kaspar's perked up any time he hears us say the word "Me" in conversation-- and, hey, this happens a lot. He'll slap his hand to his chest and say "ME!" as a loud proclamation of selfhood. He definitely understands everything else we're saying, in general, but this whole concept of "me" and "you" is just rocking his world. He really gets it. I'm bracing myself, suspecting that what's next is "Mine" (oh boy), but I'm also embracing this-- embracing his discovery and assertion of himself as his very own person-- in every positive, encouraging, rah-rah-unique-Kaspar way I can.
When Kaspar points to fire trucks, airplanes, etc., I'll say "A fire truck! Will you be a fire fighter? You can be anything!"-- and then I'll go through, one by one, as many things as I can think of, even getting pretty crazy with it. "Will you run a surf shop in Maui? Maybe!" He doesn't know what a surf shop (or Maui) is, but he thinks this game is hilarious. I always finish with "You will be lots of things, and you can be anything!" (Yeah, lots of exclamation points. Enthusiasm goes over great at this stage.) He beams.
I also sing a song to Kaspar that I made up, and sang, while I was pregnant. To be completely accurate, I spun it off of a line I heard another girl sing once, years ago, during a camping trip in Oregon (so if part of this song is actually your song, don't sue me). I never learned how the rest of it goes, but its refrain always stuck with me: "Ain't nobody who can sing like me."
Making my own song out of that, I ran with its twangy style. Here's how it goes (note: I am shy about only a handful of things, and singing in public is one of them… so, no video this time. You can make up your own tune to go with the words):
Saw a little birdie in the old oak tree
Singing a song, so happy and free
She said 'there ain't nobody who can sing like me'
Ain't nobody who can sing like me (x3)
Saw a little bear on the forest floor
Looked like he had something good in store
He said 'you ain't heard nothing till you heard me roar'
Ain't heard nothing till you heard me roar (x3)
I met your Daddy in a bright cafe
had a twinkle in his eye and a quiet way
I said 'I never met a man made me feel this way'
Never met a man made me feel this way, never met a man made me wanna stay, never met a man made me feel this way.
I love your daddy, yes it sure is true
And he loves me and we love you
There's never ever been another Kaspar Q.
Never ever been another Kaspar Q., never gonna be another one like you, never ever been another Kaspar Q.
Kaspar, of course, loves this. He prompts me to sing it many times over. It features him, after all, by name, and a bit about his story (I did meet Aaron in a sunny cafe in New York's west village). In making the song up, though, when he was still just a bump in my belly, I think I felt that the bird, and the bear, were also intended to represent my soon-to-be child. I want him to be confident, to celebrate his talents, to be comfortable in his skin.
In my experience (just through in-person conversations, and also way too much 'Celebrity Rehab' exposure via Netflix), I've noticed that when people's lives go awry-- when they harm themselves and others, or are simply unhappy and unfulfilled-- there's usually a back-story of suppressed self-expression (usually involving parents who wanted their kids to be something they weren't). This can happen in really extreme ways, but also in more subtle ones; I think many of us experienced a level of pressure to be one thing or another as we grew up-- rather than to just be ourselves. Untangling which of our desires and goals (and, um, issues) really belong to us can be a lifelong project. I want to help Kaspar to realize himself without that extra 'stuff' in the way. What's really cool to witness, as a parent, is that self-realization is a totally natural, joyful process, something my kid is doing on his own. I hope I can help him to flourish as he continues to discover all that of that "Me"-ness, that he'll always know I love him for exactly who he is, and that I'll know when to stay out of the way.
How do you tell your kids their own stories? How do you encourage them to be who they are? Do you ever notice other parents-- or yourselves-- pushing kids in one direction or another? How do you nurture your kids' interests and independence as they emerge, at any age? Looking forward to your thoughts on this. :-)
PS. Don't forget to stop by my other happening blog: Alt-Mama!