My daughter puts me to the test. Can I walk the walk, or am I just all talk?
‘When is a child too old for the naughty spot?’ I wonder.
My middle child, the one who I am at this moment threatening with the naughty spot, is seven and a half. Believe me, I’ve tried other things. I’ve tried talking and reasoning with her. I’ve called a family meeting and sat her down at the table with her older brother, “Stop looking at me!”, she screams hysterically at him, then to me, “You’re being rude! I’m not listening to you!”
I‘ve confiscated the toys she refused to pick up off the floor. I’ve even given her a smack and shouted at her in the old fashioned parenting style my father would approve of. “It’s your fault”, he says whenever he gets the opportunity, “You let them get away with it”. The smack didn’t help; it just accelerated into more screaming and stomping up the stairs, and made me feel like shit. I feel like I’m stuck in the famous Aussie picture book Wanda-Linda Goes Bizerk where the mother explains modern discipline techniques to the exasperated old lady,‘We don’t smack out children’, she says, or something to that effect.
‘Well, what do you do then?’
‘We go right out of our minds’.
I’ve sent Charlotte to her room; I’ve even threatened to send her to stay with my father for a weekend, a fate worse than death, but every punishment seems to alienate her further, to widen the divide with the rest of the family. I worry that she is becoming ‘the squeaky wheel’. I can’t let this happen.
And so I start thinking about the naughty spot again. Charlotte’s always been volatile, swinging from an angelic child into a demonic fiend in the blink of an eye. The naughty spot was a godsend a few years ago. But then lately I feel like I’ve been getting it wrong too… ‘Maybe I should put myself on the naughty spot’, I think. ‘Forty minutes left alone. Sounds like bliss!’
What would I do I wonder if I set the timer and had to sit in that corner of the room? Close my eyes and try to centre myself, meditate on the lines of my last poem: ‘Remember… The sweetness of knowing how special you are –physical form manifest from the dust of a star.’
It’s not hard to get lost in this busy, busy world, too easy to feel confused and alone, angry, irritated… How hard must it be for a child? Charlotte’s feelings are the same ones I’ve been learning to deal with all my life. I raged through my teenage years, Robert Smith and The Cure providing the soundtrack, then into my twenties narrowly escaping overdoses and a suicidal car crash. Charlotte and I have a new young artist we both like and sing along to Sky Ferreira’s song, ‘I Blame Myself’: “I’m 10 years old without a voice. I feel like nothing’s really changed. Now I’m just a little older.”
It saddens me deeply to think my seven-year-old daughter is so vulnerable. I thought I could protect her, had hoped all the work I’d done on my own self-development would somehow extend to her, thought we were evolving, she and I, not circling the same patterns for eternity.
I’ve been reading a wonderful book while all this has been going on, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, by American activist-cum-philosopher Charles Eisenstein. He’s identified the pain that many of us feel and describes it as living in the ‘Story of Separation’, a result of being part of a culture and civilisation that has thought itself separate from the world since the Industrial Age, expounded by everyone from Descartes to Darwin. It is only now, he postulates, as humanity rushes headfirst into a planetary crisis, that we have the chance and the desire to step into a new way of being, which he calls the ‘Story of Interbeing’, a state being brought about by individuals ‘waking up’ to the reality that we are all a part of creation, that our every thought and action impacts the whole. From this standpoint we can rise to become true custodians of our planet, ‘Enlightenment is a group activity’, he says.
The words have resonated with me so intensely that I have wanted to shout much of the book from the rooftops, and have had to content myself with the next best thing –posting quotes on Twitter.
Why is this book so important to me? Because reading it I have realised at a global level how important my own personal soul searching has been. The angst I’ve always felt, that tugged at my heart as a child, and raged through me like so many tempests –I could never outrun it. The harder I struggled the more pain I felt.It’s only been recently that I feel I’ve discovered I was never supposed to–that this feeling was truth bubbling up inside me. I recognise it in my daughter, her fresh impatience for anything that smacks of the Age of Separation.
“All right Charlotte”, I say, “We’re going to try a little experiment. I’m going to put you on the naughty spot, but I’m going to sit on it with you and we’re going to look into each other’s eyes.”
“What??”, she screams,“No! NO! I’m not!! I’m not going to!”
What new horrible torture have I come up with now? I take her by the wrist, her thin bird-like wrist. She resists, but only feebly, and I get the sense it’s more for show. She sits in the corner and I sit down opposite her, the timer set.
The first two minutes she struggles and fights. Her eyes dart around evading mine with a panicky look in them. I sit calmly before her and go into my heart space; fill the vessel at my core until it overflows with the love I feel for my daughter; remember the first time I held her…
“You have the most beautiful eyes”, I say to her. I’ve told her this before many times. Shyly she makes eye contact for the first time. She looks doubtful, confused, hurt.
“When you were born I used to just sit and hold you. Do you know that? I just sat and looked at you for hours and hours. All I wanted to do in the world was just sit and look at you, my precious little baby.”Her face puckers with emotion and the tears begin to spill from her eyes.
“Do you know how special you are Charlotte? This feeling in your chest; can you feel it?” She nods. The tears are running like rivers down her face. “You are an artist sweetheart. You will always have big feelings, strong emotions. Sometimes they will feel like a huge storm passing through you, but don’t ever be afraid of them.”
“I don’t want to be an artist”, she says in a small voice, “I don’t want to lose my temper. It’s scary.”
“You don’t have to be scared of these feelings”, I say. “I love you, with all my heart and I will always be here for you. These strong feelings, they’re your special gift. Don’t ever be afraid to feel them, no matter what anyone says.”
She falls towards me and hugs me, sobbing, finally letting her guard down. Ah, there it is –a flicker of intuition of what’s driving her… “I know you want to be different”, I say, “but don’t sabotage yourself. Don’t cut yourself off from these big feelings, just to be different.”She looks at me. “I know you get it”, I tell her, “You say things all the time that are amazing, that we are made of love for instance… We have such wonderful things to do together, you and I.”
The timer goes. We get on with our day, but I can sense that something has changed. Charlotte is quiet. At night I go to turn off her light. “I want to look into your eyes again”, Charlotte says. She is smiling and I laugh. “When can we sit on the naughty spot together again Mummy?”
Katie Little can sum up her childhood in two words: not average, not least because her mother is Australian icon Jeanne Little. Katie is working on a memoir and writes about parenthood, relationships and staying sane in an insane world.
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