Monday, April 19, 2010

Lettin' It All Hang Out

It’s a generally accepted rule that we act the worst with the people closest to us, right? We say things to our spouses, parents, children, that we would never say to a boss, friend, or even total stranger (anonymous angry blog comments excluded), because we know our close family members will continue to love us and maybe even like us in spite of our bad behavior.

This would explain why I was a total brat to my parents between the ages of 12-14 (though my mom would probably expand that range by four years on either side), while being perceived as a perfect angel by teachers and neighbors. I know this is true of me now with Matt, as I nag and gripe while being (mostly) sweet to (almost) everyone else. I feel like a hypocrite, hiding my true colors, but I think most people can probably relate to this “rule” of life and relationships.

I am amazed at how early children learn that rule. I’ve read articles saying how kids that are perfect in school will suddenly morph into rabid iguanas on their way out to the car with Mom or Dad, and that that is totally normal because kids know Mom and Dad will still love them even when they act that way. They can let their guard down and express even the less-appealing sides of their personalities. It doesn’t mean they are “bad” kids at home, or that they are being fake at school, just that they’ve learned to control their lesser impulses when out in public.

Even toddlers seem to develop their “public personalities” as they amaze everyone with their sweetness at church or in a store, while throwing crazy tantrums at home. Sure, they occasionally still have the meltdowns in the produce aisle that we all wish we could have some days, but the major fuss-fests are usually reserved for parents’ eyes only.

This all came to mind around noon today, when I thought of Kate going down for her naptime at school. At home, if we put her in her crib when she’s not really tired, she will stand up, jump up and down, rattle her cage, and scream. At school, surely she is not always tired when the teacher declares it is naptime, but even without two-foot bars to hold her in, she always goes to sleep on her cot without much fuss. I picture her toddling over to her cot and laying down quietly while the teacher sits and has her lunch in peace.

“If only she knew!” I think. But I’m sure her kids are the same way, and the truth of the matter is I’m glad Kate feels confident enough in our unconditional love to let it all hang out when she’s upset.

Now if I can just remember that when she’s thirteen.

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