At any random moment, my 16-month-old daughter is liable to throw her head back, laugh heartily at the sky, and run forward blindly with arms back and chest out until she collapses to the ground in a fit of laughter.
It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed. And it happens (seemingly) unprovoked.
I’ve been thinking a lot about “Lettin’ It Shine” lately, chewing on what I think that phrase actually means. (Hint: I DON’T think its application is limited to our positive, “shiny” emotions.)
One thing that is very clear to me from watching my kids is that “Lettin’ It Shine” is not something we need to LEARN. It’s something we are BORN knowing. It’s something that we (tragically) UN-LEARN over time.
To put it more confusingly, in order to truly Let It Shine, we need to un-learn our un-learning. [That's all!]
But how is it that we stop shining in the first place? And WHY??
***[Cut to scene 2.]***
We’re five minutes late for preschool already and I don’t even have the kids in the car yet. I’m carrying my son’s bagel with cream cheese and jelly between my teeth while holding my toddler to my hip with one arm, dodging her attempts to grab the bagel by continuously flicking my head to the side, carrying two overflowing bags and two water bottles with the other arm, and attempting to open the car door.
I stayed up later than I should have again last night, so I am (predictably) groggy this morning. I’m not on my A-game.
I drop the two bags and water bottles on the ground, open the car door, put the bagel on the seat, and while I’m trying to wrestle my daughter into her car seat, I turn to see that my son is sauntering around our front yard with a long stick held to his nose, pretending to be an elephant. I remind him (for the UMPteenth time) that we are late: leave the stick here for later and get-in-the-CAR.
I wrestle a little more with wrestler-baby, then glance at my son again.
“MmmmmMMMMMMMMMMPH!!!” he trumpets. His head is hanging low, his weight sauntering from side to side, his feet plodding slowly…exactly like an elephant.
“LISTEN TO ME,” I say. I am firm and my voice is low and slow: my best intimidating mom voice. ”I am taking that stick and you are getting in the car right now.”
I grab the stick.
“BUT I WANT TO PUT IT IN THE CLOSET,” he yells. ["Garage," he means. He's been keeping that stick in there every night since the hurricane. It's thin, crooked in several places so as to take up maximum garage space (or, maybe, to make it look more like an elephant trunk), and it's at least ten feet long.]
“WE ARE LATE!” I say. ”THE STICK IS SAFE HERE IN THE DRIVEWAY. WE CAN LEAVE IT HERE AND PLAY WITH IT WHEN YOU GET HOME. NOW GET-IN-THE-CAR,” I say. (Not quite as low and slow that time.)
Now he is crying. It’s not the manipulative, I’m-trying-to-get-my-way cry. It’s his genuinely heart-broken and heart-breaking I-am-concerned-about-my-elephant-trunk cry.
And all of a sudden all of my recent reflections about why we humans forget how to “Let It Shine” smack me in the face–as if I just stepped on a rake. WHAT AM I DOING?
I purse my lips into an “O” and blow: a physical release of my disappointment in myself. CAN’T I SEE WHAT’S HAPPENING?
My son is teaching me how beautiful that long and twisted dead stick is, and all I am thinking about is how much room it has been occupying in my recently-cleaned garage.
He is coaching me on how to enjoy the small things and I am hurrying him up so that we can–WHAT?–get to NURSERY SCHOOL?? Where they don’t give a damn if you are late? Where they sing and color and teach you to ENJOY THE SMALL THINGS??
My son is showing me how to let it shine and not only am I not taking the lesson in it, I am squashing HIS light.
Don’t get me wrong: I think kids need discipline and I think they need to learn to respect their parents. If I make a rule, I need to follow through and teach my children to obey.
But why make the rule in this case? How did we get here? Do I not know that my son will take his splendid time noticing beauty on his way through the garage EVERY morning?
Why do I not plan time for that into our day? Why must he adjust to MY pace, instead of me coming down to HIS pace more often? Why do I not get myself to bed earlier at night so that I can have the PATIENCE to recognize what is and is not important in the morning?
This is how it happens, isn’t it? This is how we UN-LEARN how to shine. Our parents are our teachers and if our parents do not take care of themselves and let themselves shine, then when we grow to mirror them, we shine less, too.
It’s time that we un-learn the un-learning, catchers of light. It’s time that we break the cycle by rocking our basic happiness fundamentals so that we can model–for our children, for ourselves, and for our peers–what it means to glow with an inner light.
This week, I’m committing to a 10:45pm lights-out time. Every night. No excuses. I’m planning time into our morning for a toddler’s pace (you should too, regardless of whether you have a toddler) and if we ARE “late” for something whose start-time doesn’t matter, I’m going to relax and be laissez-faire about it.
Next time I think I am “late” for an appointment, I ought to pay attention because I might be right on time for the elephant parade.