Monday, August 8, 2011

Three Little Things

Every night before Jellybean goes to sleep, I tell her three things. Well, four, if you count the obligatory ‘I love you’, more if you count the stuff she demands I repeat back after she’s said it, like ‘sweet dreams’ or ‘see you in the morning’. And god forbid I forget to use her name, she loses it. She’ll sit bolt upright in bed and sternly command, “Say, ‘sweet dreams, JENNY’, mama!” Like I’m saying it to someone else?! Sheesh, that kid is so damn bossy, I have no idea where she gets it. Anyhow. Three things. I tell her she’s smart, I tell her she’s pretty, and I tell her she’s a nice person. I always say those three things, in that order, and here’s why.

I tell her she’s smart first, because I want her to value that above being pretty. Since she’s smart, she knows she’s smart, so I don’t need to go much beyond that, because I don’t want her to get a big fat ego and be that kind of smart where she thinks she’s smarter than everyone, because that can get you into trouble. If she’s struggled that day with a new skill or been frustrated by something, I will remind her of her successes – a new word she used, a problem she solved, a joke she told.

I tell her she’s pretty second, because I want her to be confident, and because society values appearances and I want her to be comfortable with not just who she is, but how she looks. And it’s not just ‘you’re cute’, either, I tell her she’s strong, and healthy, and does a good job brushing her teeth. I also sometimes tell her she’s got a fat head or a big butt and we laugh about it, so that she doesn’t take her flaws too seriously. But then I also let her know her hair smells nice, or that she has pretty eyes. We talk about how everyone is different, and how cool that is.

Lastly I let her know how proud I am that she’s a nice person. I always try to point out specific examples – good helping or listening, sharing with or being sympathetic to a friend (person or animal), a small kindness, or even just recognition of good manners. I value this above being pretty, but I know that she’s three and the last thing she hears is likely to be the thing that sticks with her. The big cruel world is filled with jerks and is going to knock her around plenty, but maybe if she can learn to acknowledge that and still see the good, it won’t seem so unfair. Plus, basic good citizenship seems to be underrated lately, and that makes me crazy.

Jellybean is lots of other things – she’s hilariously funny, crazy dramatic, an enthusiastic singer, a budding chef. She’s stubborn, and sunny, and much more patient than me. I do my best to let her know throughout the day that those are all the things that make her ‘her’, and that I love her for them. But at nighttime, while the house settles and we’re chin-to-chin under the covers, I like to take a few minutes to impress upon her what really sets her apart and makes her special, because I want her to grow up believing it just as much as I do. I think it’s one of the greatest gifts we give our kids, other than simply letting them know they’re loved every single chance you get. It’s similar to how you shouldn’t want someone to depend on you for their happiness – you want them to be happy just because. While I want Jelly to know that I think she’s awesome and the shining star at the center of my universe, I want her to likewise wholeheartedly think Hey – I AM awesome. Not just think it, but know it. And I hope this helps.