Today started with me hating World Book Day. A lot. I resented it and I disliked it, and when I encountered a child weeping at the school gates because he’d dressed up on the wrong day (our school dresses up the day after), I felt justified in my belief that dressing up for World Book Day was a Bad Thing.
Of course, it was actually nothing to do with World Book Day, and everything to do with the reason I write this blog, and why it has the name it does. Because actually, I have no real argument with World Book Day. It’s good. I love books. I love kids reading books. I love kids worldwide reading books, and getting excited about them, and even dressing up and all that great stuff. I do.
However, it also just happens to be a massive trigger for my own unresolved issues about parenting in public. World Book Day is one of those events that isn’t meant to be, but feels exposing to me as a parent. Do you make an elaborate costume? Do you cobble something together at the last minute? Or do your kids (like mine) want to go as characters from tv or video games, about which you do have a slightly tenuous ‘book’ they could take in – but you know in your heart isn’t really the kind of book the school is getting at. And yesterday I was just fine with that. Yesterday I got that their costume choices (Steve from Minecraft, Bear Grylls and Spiderman) seemed just great to them, and that they were only thinking about how fun it would be to pretend to be that character in the playground with their friends, and much less about a book, and not at all about how ‘well read’ they would appear to their teachers. I got that, and I supported them.
But over night the gremlins had apparently crept into my head. I opened my mouth before my brain engaged, and I let the gremlins speak. I suggested that their initial costume ideas weren’t World Book Day ‘enough’. Which flies in the face of my most dearly held wish, which is for my kids to know that they are enough. As. They. Are. And that they should not feel compelled to change who they are because of a fear of what ‘people’ might say. Anyway, I forgot all of that. Completely. And I told them they needed to make more worthwhile choices.
And so I spent this morning feeling all scratchy and out of sorts, distracted by low level stress about how I could make these bloody costumes happen, my attention taken away from the beautiful sunshine streaming into our house, of the like we haven’t seen enough of in recent months. I barked at the kids when they wanted to talk to me, because of the cortisol churning through my veins. I turned away from everything that mattered, and gave my energies to the stuff that absolutely doesn’t – like pointlessly trying to control the way I’m perceived by the judgemental teachers and fellow parents of my imagination.
And so this morning, I wasn’t cross with the kids, or the school for asking this of us, or the world for deciding to have a book day of its own. I was frustrated that I had been infected by shame and had allowed that shame to infect my kids too, albeit in a indirect way. And I forgot that it’s ok that they care more about playing with their friends than impersonating some great hero of children’s literature.
But sadly, even though I know this to be true in my head, my heart was yet to catch up. Apparently, this morning I wasn’t able to allow my kids to be who they wanted to be (for World Book Day or in life). I wasn’t able to practice being ok with their choices. I forgot that in all likelihood, no one’s looking or caring anyway, and even if they were, I cannot and should not try to control what people are thinking about my kids and my choices, however much I may want to.
So my task for today is to give myself a break. To remember that despite my loftiest ambitions, I am going to slip up – sometimes repeatedly. There are going to be days when I give my power away to the imagined judgement of others. Because I’m going to forget what is as true of my kids as it is yours – they’re good as they are, whether they’re dressed up as Steve from Minecraft or Julia Donaldson herself. They’re learning all the time, they’re trying, they’re failing, they’re achieving, and they’re making crappy choices. Just like the grown ups who are busy trying to parent them.
Some days I’m going to struggle to head out into the world with them with all their perfect imperfections on show. I’m going to try to make them something other than who they are (which is absolutely who they should be).
I’m going to try and mould them into the children I think they should be. But I hope that when the gremlins have left the building, I will always return to the truth that is the beautifully flawed little people my heart knows they absolutely and unashamedly are.