Lessons from Abby

Abby celebrated her second birthday four months ago. She has grown into a bright, talkative, and active toddler. She goes to her preschool twice a week and each time she comes home she brings along new songs and new “art craft” – don’t expect a masterpiece here, though. She is also a very social little girl – she likes to hang around other children and never shies away from new faces. In fact, she has always been the one who initiates conversations and conveys friendly touches – hugs and pokes alike, depend on the situation. She loves to be the center of attention (she’ll do anything to draw it!). She never fails to amuse me with her imagination – though at times her cat-level curiosity drives me crazy.

And she has taught me a lot of lessons.

Our first encounter was when she was five months old. Despite my initial enthusiasm, it was not love at first sight for me – the chubby baby with narrow eyes, barely-there body hair (eyebrows and hair, to be precise) and pouting lips didn’t impress me. I can admit now that at that time I was a bit disappointed. I had been looking forward to meeting my real niece, my sister’s flesh and blood, whose pictures showed an adorable little creature featuring rosy cheeks. Let’s just say she wasn’t what I had imagined and expected to see.

But that didn’t prevent me from the next process. Call it anything you want – Freudian self-fulfillment (as I haven’t had my own kid), maternal instinct, or simply the very effective, self-explanatory, Javanese proverb witing tresna jalaran saka kulina – in the end it’s about me loving her with all my heart. I would give the world to her if I can. My heart breaks when she cries, if she’s hurt, or while she gets sick.

On the other hand, I also want her to develop into Рwatch out, uber clich̩ness here Рa good person. A smart, well-informed, and flat-out nice person. I want her to be somebody I wish I were.

I made my mistakes, and I want to correct them through her.

And by doing that I created another mistake, because I was trying to be God.

There is nothing wrong in guiding your children. In fact, the last time I checked, parents are obliged to do that. I may not be Abby’s biological mother, but heck, I’m still a parent figure.
As a parent figure, I often forget that Abby is also another person, who has command on her own. She might be pint-sized, but she possesses her own will and thoughts – and she has every right to.

I am obliged to give her any information she needs to conduct her life, to teach her to separate the bad from the good (or vice versa) – at least my version of what’s good and what’s bad. And in doing so I need to keep an open mind that my version of what’s good and what’s bad isn’t necessarily the universally accepted version. It’s probably not the same with my sister’s, Abby’s mother, version. The issue that comes next is that I automatically assume that my sister and I share the same view – while it turns out they’re often times opposites. That sometimes pisses me off, I tell her my opinions in perhaps the most authoritative manner, and guess what? I don’t have the right to do that because a) she’s not my daughter, b) I never had any daughter – or kids, for that matter – and c) she’s an adult. The results are: a) I don’t get my concerns relayed correctly and b) it strains our relationship.

Fortunately this doesn’t happen too many times. More often than not she happily lets me partake in Abby’s upbringing. And I eventually try to control myself too and be careful not to cross the line.

I learned from my relations with Abby – and other people, in light of her – that the best thing I can do is to be the navigator. Taking over the steering wheel while she is in the driving seat will be dangerous to both of us.

I may not need to be in the car at all either. But I can be the driving coach – that way, I still equip her with proper knowledge to understand when to go straight and when to turn around. When to stop and when to give way to others.

And I have to always remember this: we may share some cells and chromosomes, but she is her own self. She will go through a lot of things, ups and downs, pains and excitements, failure and success – all of her own. I should not associate myself with them – she doesn’t have to share them with me.

Because if I do, I’ll congratulate me for her accomplishments and blame me for her letdowns. It will be about me, me, me. Not her. While it is her life.

I want to lend a strong hand when she needs it. Be happy for her happiness. I need to keep a certain distance to be able to do that, with love as much as I have.