April 29, 2012

Unnameable Beauty and Wonder

This post is about being a dad. It's about the conversations we have with children. It is about pride and guilt and confusion and shame and love. This post is about Sunday afternoon walks, exploration and discovery. It's about little girls and strong women, lonely boys grown into confident men. I don't really know what it is about, hence the stall, but I do know that I have to write it, so let's start with this picture:

That's my daughter Kaia. She is amazing. I don't know where she came from, or how she is becoming who she is? She is perfect, and I don't want to break her with my anxieties, my fears, my issues, of which I know there are many. I love her more than I ever thought a human being could love another. She is amazing. Did I say that already? 

The picture is of her posing near a stencil we created and I painted in our compound to help bring awareness to the plight of women in Iran. I am from Iran.  I was born there-- is that enough? She is from Iran too, I guess. It's in her blood right? Is that enough? After much fear and anxiety, I painted this stencil a few weeks ago, but today was the first time I took her to see it.

We were on what she called a walk of exploring and discovery this afternoon. I was asking her if she would help me make a video to raise some money for Daraja. We were walking toward the wall:

Me: Do you know what Daraja is? 
Kaia: A special city? 
Me: No. Do you remember when we went to Africa to visit, uncle Jason? 
Kaia: Silence
Me: It is a school. For girls. In Kenya. Africa. 
Kaia: Oh. 
Me: In some places not everyone can go to school. In some places girls aren't able to go to school. 
Kaia: Why? 
Me: Maybe their family doesn't have enough money to send them, or maybe their family would rather that they stay home and work. Some places they don't want girls to learn.
Kaia: Why not? 
Me: I'm not sure. I think in some places they are scared of smart girls. Remember when we made that poster for Iran. I think many Iranian men are scared of smart girls. But anyway, Daraja is a school that my friend Jason started to help girls in Kenya go to school.
Kaia: Oh. 
Me: I try to help him and the school whenever I can, because I think girls should go to school, just as much as boys. Why do you think it is important for girls to go to school?
Kaia: So they can learn. 
Me: Sure, but why? 
Kaia: Silence
Me: Girls who go to school can do anything they want. They can become doctors, or film makers or librarians/rockstars (This is what Kaia wants to be when she grows up at the moment)  
Kaia: They can also be principals!
Me: Yes, of course. They can be anything boys can be. That is why schools are so important for girls. 
Kaia: If not, they just have to stay home and get bored. 
Me: Well, they have to stay home, but usually they have to work. They cook, clean, take care of smaller kids. They don't have many choices of what to do. Who to be. 
Kaia: That's not fair. 

We walked in silence until we came to our wall. I asked her to stand by the stencil. She meekly walked next to it. I asked her to pose like the stencil-- she meekly raised her arm. In a fist I said. She didn't fake a smile like she usually does. She stood proud (propped up) strong (coerced) and confident. (forced) I was proud of her (ashamed of myself)

Was I proud of her or myself? My photo op? Was I creating another me? Are we only proud of our children when they mirror behaviors that remind us of ourselves? I was thrilled last week when she mentioned that we should Tweet a message telling people to stop eating Shark Fin soup. I love when she draws and scrapbooks. I love it when she dances and asks to hear Zero, but am I so boastful when she begs for a Disney Princess doll?

I know. I know. I am over-thinking again, but if we are not over-thinking parenting, that what are we doing? This is it. This is our shot and a better world. This is education at its purist.

We walked on. She skipped. Her energy and enthusiasm for our exportation was contagious. Everything we saw was a universe of curiosity. We examined fallen flowers, talked about bugs, soil, and seed dispersion. We tried to capture a giant grass-hopper; we waded in puddles and were bit by mosquitoes.

After a demonstration of seed dispersal, in which I had thrown a seed a few feet of a tree and walked away, she picked it up and carried it back to the pile where we had found it. She looked at me incredulous and said, "Put things back where you find them daddy. Come on, you are a grown up, you should know that by now." She smiled a smile that melted my heart. I knew that she was beyond anything I could create. She was already, at six, more than I could ever be.

We can't help pouring ourselves into our kids. We can't help feeling good when they reflect the best parts of ourselves back to us. The secret, I guess, is to also beam with pride when they want to paint their room pink and purple. We must learn when to influence, but also when to step back and let them grow into themselves. Throughout their lives, children will absorb the world, so it has to be okay to fill them early with a foundation that will help them stand tall later in life. 

Yes, I feel guilty when I see so much of myself in Kaia, or when I boast of her qualities that mirror my own, but I hope I can be cognizant enough to realize when I am being suffocating or judgmental of her when her path diverges from my own. I look forward to the day when she will take the lead and I will see parts of her personality in me. I think that may have happened today, and I won't lie--it was a feeling of unnameable beauty and wonder.

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