About 6:50 PM yesterday I turned around and glared at my daughter, pointedly said, ” Rumi, it’s time for you to sit in your car seat.” (Roxanne and I had been working to get her buckled in for a short ride home from the playground, for roughly fifteen minutes.. I was tired. Roxanne was tired. Rumi was tired. But we were not all in agreement about how ready we were to leave the playground. You see, I’d just arrived there at 6:30 to pick them up, and as usual, this was Rumi’s queue to ramp up the intensity and play with me.)
… She looked right back at me, frowned, and turned away. Angry, defiant, hurt.
Another five minutes of struggling and cajoling and advising and reasoning and patienting . .. and finally, with the promise of a three minute ride home, plus a countdown timer on the phone so that she could see that it was only going to be three minutes, she accepted our insistent demands and got into the car seat.
It was a three minute ride home.
We arrived and parked, and turned the car off just as the timer sounded out.
Everyone disembarked, andvoilà, we were home.
It would seem that this is the end of the story, no? No.
Here I am, at a work lunch the following day, and it suddenly strikes me – emotionally – how difficult a moment that must have been for Rumi, to face the menace of her father and not succumb or unravel. It struck me not as a thought, but as an emotion. It moves me almost to tears to acknowledge the position she was put in, and to see how unfair it would feel from her perspective. How frighteningly daunting the scowling stare of someone who she loves, who is nine times her weight, two and a half times her height, and twenty times her age, and who “owns” the space she is in (the car), and who can pretty much impose any condition on her … how overwhelming that would appear, and yet she did not cry, she did not wilt, she did not take flight to her
mother’s arms, she did not concede.
It took nearly twenty four hours for it to seep down into my being: what a giant injustice for one person to be able to blindly impose their will on another (no matter the reasoning or responsibility of the parent, the “rightness” of the matter does not factor in, for from the perspective of the child their will is every bit as valid as anyone else’s – they just don’t get treated that way). Doubly troubling to me, is that this conflict arose not with someone she does not know, but that it be played out as a struggle between two people who love each other… “absolute power corrupts absolutely”, even true love.
It pains me to know that what happened yesterday was a tacit threat from me to her (“it’s time to get in your seat” … or else, it was implied). It pains me to see that even though I would never willingly or knowingly hurt my child, that there are ways in which the power differential between us can disfigure and distort our relationship, despite any well-meaning and loving intent.
It humbles me to a child-like state to know without a doubt that were it I who encountered someone in a position of authority, having over me the same orders of magnitude more power than I have over a two and a half year old, I would have given in to the pressure without further resistance. It feels like – and I struggle to find a parallel where the imbalance of power is so great –
I imagine the person who famously stood down a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square during the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989… that feels like the same level of revolt and power disparity that my daughter was facing yesterday. All to not get into her car seat and be taken home, away from the playground we were, because she was excited to play there with her father whom she had not seen all day.
Absurd that such a giant struggle might ensue, and that a poison dart could fly from the melee between us to stick into my heart, over such trivial misunderstandings as wanting to play for a bit longer on a swing or a slide.
I admire her for her fortitude.
I am humbled by her fortitude, and can only hope that if life ever calls on me to stand up for her in the face of those same odds,
that I’d answer with the same genuine strength she displays every day, for every day she battles giants, for real.
And so it goes, each new experience fraught with tension, skewered by miscommunication, tangled in Love.