The little boy was wearing blue jeans with one thread-worn knee and a red rugby shirt. When his mother opened the door to the bookstore he raced straight back to the children’s section, pulled a couple of picture books off the shelf and flopped down on his belly.
The boy turned the pages of the brightly illustrated book with one hand and twirled a short brown curl around the index finger of his other hand. His breath slowed as he grew immersed in the story of seven siblings who were silly eaters.
As I straightened books in the nonfiction section I watched as he turned to the last page and then carefully put the book back on the shelf. Then, on his knees he made his way around the display, taking his time to examine each cover of the line of books. Head cocked, eyebrows raised, his interest was thoroughly piqued.
One of the things I’ve always loved about working in a bookstore, especially a small independent one, is seeing kids come in with such excitement about searching for their next book. Seeing a child get bit by the reading bug it really is a glorious thing to behold.
On this particular day, after I’d finished shelving books I made my way up to the front counter. The boy was still in the back, now rocking back and forth on the old, beloved rocking dragon while trying to balance a book on the handles so he could read at the same time.
The boy’s mother was leaning against the wall by the mystery section and seemed immersed in her own new book. A tiny elderly woman wearing a silver raincoat and matching hat made her way to the front counter and asked me to help her find a book for a baby shower. The bookstore cat was sleeping soundly in the in-box in front of the warm computer screen.
For a few minutes I’d forgotten about the little boy in the back of the store, but when I made my way back to the front counter his mother came up and called his name.
The boy arrived, holding two books in his hands. He had the look of someone who had found a secret stash of gold. He leaned into his mother and whispered Can I get these? His mothered pulled him to the side and looked at the books. These aren’t right for you, she said. No, this one is too hard. And this one is for babies. You can’t get these.
The boy visibly wilted. He dropped his hands and held the books limply by his side. Looking at his hands he said, But they look so good. And then, Please? His mother wouldn’t change her mind. The boy went trudging back to the children’s section to look for something else.
Now, who knows what events preceded this bookstore visit, or how frustrating this woman’s day had or had not been, but my heart hurt for the little boy. I’d seen firsthand how much he had enjoyed those books. I saw how they had captured his imagination. I also felt for his mother. How many times had my kids brought me something in a store that I simply didn’t want to buy because it seemed, well, stupid to me at the moment? Many times.
I started thinking about how often I’d shut my kids down. And how often I’d made snap judgements about their choices without considering how much thought and energy they’d put into making those choices.
Had I given my children the withering look of parental impatience at times? Yes. Had these looks make them feel unworthy? I believe so.
Parenting is hard. It is really fucking hard. And no one gets it just right. There is no magic formula for growing the best kid, and with the exception of a few really lame people, most parents put a lot of heart and effort into their children.
But watching that interaction really showed me that I need to keep checking myself. I need to listen to how I talk to my kids. I need to be cognizant of what my reactions are telling my kids about their worth. Because even when I am having a crap day, they are still worthy, and I want them to feel their worth and carry it with them always.