While sitting in the theater waiting for David Sedaris to take the stage at a recent storytelling event, my friend, who was sitting next to me, was scrolling through her Facebook feed. She tipped the screen towards me to share a precious entry a mom had posted about her five year old daughter’s new playtime activity. Her sweet, adorable girl was pictured “playing office’; with a keyboard, thick books stacked around her, and hair ties available for those heavy moments of concentration. She was very serious about her “work.” The look on her face as her mom snapped her photo showed that she was also very, very busy at work. And due to her busy schedule, her mom’s post explained that family members were now “required” to make an appointment to meet with her one-on-one. The photo and the story put a big smile on my face.
In the context of listening to David Sedaris, a comedic author who loves to write autobiographical stories about the awkward spaces he observes about himself and the “twisted world” around him, I was reminded of one of my own life experiences, one that also oddly mirrored the Facebook entry.
As a child, I did my fair share of “playing” school, office, restaurant, and bank. But, the most surprising and shaming pretend play I engaged in was when I opened a “bar” in one of my family’s bathrooms. I was ten years old at the time. I had carefully collected empty alcohol bottles from our trash, mixed food coloring in with water and “set up shop.” I cleared the bathroom vanity and neatly placed the colorful water filled bottles up against the mirror. I had cocktail napkins, special pour nozzles for the bottles (these were so fun), swizzle sticks and colorful plastic cups. I set out a TV tray as a table for my “guests” to use, and lined up my Barbies around the room so I could serve them “mixed drinks."
I can laugh about this experience now, but I did not speak of this “awkward space” for years. The shame of me emulating my alcoholic father was too painful. I vividly remember him bringing a couple of his guy friends over to our home to see the bar I had created. My play certainly got his attention, but it came at a price. Talk about emotional baggage, huh? I felt like he was “proud” of me, and that he was condoning my imitation of a harmful activity. An activity that he had modeled to me time and time again. In hindsight, I should not have wanted him to be proud. I know this now.
So what is the take away from this story? Kids are always watching. Whether it is observing a school teacher, a baker, a parent who works in an office or even an alcoholic father, adults are “modeling” to children all the time. Children and teens are always watching the adults in their lives, even when you think they are not paying any attention. Have you noticed their ears perk up when they hear something that interests them? It is true what they say about kids being sponges--they soak everything in.
So, in thinking about your own actions lately, what might the youth around you have soaked up?
Are you treating others with respect? Are you handling your stress in a positive, healthy way? Are you dealing with feelings that come up for you and responding rather than reacting? Are you displaying a positive work ethic? Are you taking care of yourself? The list of “are you” questions can go on and on... there really is so much to consider.
Don’t forget to take care of your child’s parent--that’s YOU! Our children are watching and counting on you to set the example of how they should behave and respond to the world.
If you or someone you know is struggling with unmet mental health needs, please contact your local Mental Health hotline. For San Luis Obispo County, please call (805) 781-4700. To become a positive role model for a child or youth in need, sign up to become a mentor now by clicking here.