A few months ago now, right before Ethan turned two, I was having lunch at a family-friendly restaurant with a friend and her daughter who is just a few months older than Ethan. The kids were laughing, playing and enjoying their lunch. My friend's daughter would say something and Ethan would parrot it back, albeit in between mouthfuls of food, giggles and at a slightly higher octave. He was laughing so hard that he had the hiccups. A woman came over to our table to inform us that our children were animals and they disgusted her. Her children and grandchildren, don't you know, never acted that way in a restaurant. Because I'm horrible in these types of situations, I tried to quietly shush Ethan up while my friend spoke up and defended our children who were simply being children. The woman ended up calling the manager and then moving seats altogether while her husband moped along apathetically behind her. Of course, Ethan was probably being a little loud. Of course, it was a casual Mexican restaurant with Top 40 music blaring so loud that the bass all but shook your chairs, so everyone is a little louder than usual. And happier than usual, because tacos are delicious and if you remain cranky while consuming them, I can't help you (I'm looking at you, mean lady). It was a crazy experience that while funny now had me completely on edge for some time, especially when out in public. Because I have a two year old, I realize that tight-lipped obedience isn't reality. When he's sitting in the shopping cart thrashing and screaming because he doesn't want to sit in the shopping cart anymore and I can't get my act together and remember what I even came to the store for, strangers are quick to smile sympathetically and say "isn't that a fun age?" Well, yes. It is a fun age, and I mean that without the intended sarcasm. It's an awesome age and I don't mind that he's expressing his displeasure over the fact I've gone back to the pasta aisle twice now and still haven't grabbed what I came for in the only way he currently knows how. I never want him to sit idly by and be quietly obedient.
I should clarify: I don't want my child to be that rude child that kicks dirt in your face and then laughs that his daddy can and will sue you if you have something to say about it. (Don't laugh. Growing up in South Florida, you will get many a lawsuit threat as a playground insult.) My child is being raised with kindness and love, with sensitivity and emotion, with the understanding that I don't want him to just stop screaming but I want to understand why he is upset. My child is being raised with the understanding that his feelings and words matter and I am here to hear them. Ethan is the epitome of a gentle giant who understands kindness in a way that often leaves him the one taken advantage of on the playground, his toys stolen and his thirty-six pound self shoved down onto the floor by some overzealous infant. He has his quips. He has his moments of not wanting to share, of not wanting to play, of not wanting to do anything but lay splat on the floor with his face in the carpet while everyone else plays around him. He whines. He tantrums. He's two. But he also has the understanding that his feelings count. His words matter. This doesn't mean he is babied or always gets what he wants -- just ask him what happened today when he asked for cupcakes at the grocery store -- but that he is always heard, and spoken to like a human. Because, you know, he is one.
I believe that childhood is wasted by forcing children to sit on their hands, silently, accepting "because I said so" as an adequate response. What I want for Ethan is for him to always ask questions. To always wonder why and how and what even if I'm on my third cup of coffee and feel like my brain might explode if I have to try to rationalize with a two year old one more time. I want him to revel in curiosity and wonder; to feel like it's never too late to try something new. To fear failure, because he's human, but to feel confident enough to move past it. I want him to laugh those big belly laughs until those little tears roll down his cheeks and to never have to second guess saying exactly what it is that he's feeling. I want him to trust his gut when something doesn't feel right and not to follow blindly whatever everyone else is doing if his heart disagrees. I want him to dream big and chase those dreams even bigger. I want him to know that being polite doesn't mean settling for something that doesn't feel right or accepting someone else's truths as your own. I want him to giggle and laugh with his friends at lunchtime as carefree, innocent toddlers will without worrying about someone else's misery ruining his entire day.