Role Model

Listen to the MUSTN'TS, child,
Listen to the DON'TS
Listen to the SHOULDN'TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me -
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be.
- Shel Silverstein.

I discovered Shel Silverstein in grade school. I've read a lot of poetry since, but when all is said and done, he's still my favorite. Odes and Sonnets - they have their place in my life. Some have made their impact, but the above poem by Silverstein has long been my favorite. Tucked away in a book of silly little rhymes about being eaten by a boa constrictor and wearing toilet plungers as hats is this gem of hope. It makes my heart smile.

The words spoke to me from the first time I read it. I can do anything. I can be anything. I may have to work harder. I may have to push harder. I may have to wait. But I can do it. The nay-sayers, ah, who needs them. That poem still reminds me of this wise message today.

Yet it also speaks to me on another level now. It reminds me that the things I say and do impact my child outside the moment. I'm prodded to inspire dreaming and goal seeking not reign it in with my perceived reality. I'm to set limits to foster growth, not stifle it.

When people in the media's glare screw-up and someone decides to mention the child - what message is this giving the children that watch you - they undoubtedly fall back on the simple idea that "I'm not a role model. I don't pretend to be one. I don't want to be one." Yeah, that's great. Too bad, you are.

We are all role models, whether we want to be or not. All of us. The Good and the Bad. We might not WANT to be a role model. We might not even think we're role model worthy. Yet everything done in anything other than a private setting because behavior someone is absorbing and cataloging.

I think we get confused. We confuse "modeling good behavior" with being a role model. And that's not accurate. Modeling ANY behavior makes you a role model. Some of us model behavior a child ought not to pursue. Others model behavior we hope our children internalize and adhere to. Everything we do sets an example. Everything we say makes an impact.

And that is scary. It's scary to know that when I berate my fellow driver (albeit, he DID just cut me off, the jackass!) my child is watching. He's learning. When I grow frustrated with my co-workers and growl a little, the little one thinks it's funny to growl along with me. When the bigger one asks what's wrong and I, in my frustration, tell him some people just can't do their own jobs - he remembers it. If I throw my hands up in defeat, he sees it. He learns it. I've modeled a behavior and he's in class taking notes.

Yet it's the good stuff too. It occurred to me the other day, that my daughter is learning how to express love by watching us closely. I lifted her from her crib the other morning and she smiled brightly as she normally does. She cuddled her head into my neck and then she did something that caught me off guard. She was patting and rubbing my arm and back. It took me a moment to place it, but finally I did. When she's upset, not feeling well, or when she first wakes up, I have a tendency to cuddle her and pat or rub her back. I do it without thinking as a way to comfort her. Clearly it's working.

My son was goofing around last night and he smacked his head on the side of a hard toy. He grabbed the spot and groaned a little. His sister ran over to him and kissed a spot near his hand. Of course then she set to patting him on the head - hard. He didn't mind though because he got it. He looked up and smiled at us. "Megan is loving me!" he said happily.

He's right. She was. He leaned over and bear hugged until she pushes him off, giggling as she did. She then started to pat his head again.

Suddenly I didn't feel so bad about accidently teaching my son that some coworkers are morons lucky to have jobs because I've also, without trying to, taught him to recognize love and to give it.

We're all role models - the good and the bad we do. They're watching. They're taking notes. We're repeating the rules, the MUSTN'TS and the IMPOSSIBLES. We're showing the way of the WONT'S and the NEVER HAVES. But if we're wise, we're also showing them that ANYTHING can happen. We're lighting the path so they can see that ANYTHING can be.


kenju said...

How right you are! Early in my blooging, I posted a poem titled "Little Eyes Upon You" about the smae thing. I try to remember to give a copy to every new parent I know.

Michele sent me.

mar said...

Wonderful reading for a monday afternoon, thank you! Michele sent me.

Mama B said...

Amen to that! Love that poem. Thanks for sharing. Here via Michele.

lisa said...

Michele sent me. SS is great. I have a wonderful memory of my brother reciting one of his poems when he was little. something about a wavy head.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

I agree that we are all role models even if we don't have children of our own...we can and do impact others weather young or older...Great Post and a Great quote, too!

Here from Michele today..on this Minday!

Karen said...

Brillian post! I too love Shel Silverstein! He said everything so beautifully and with such wit and humor. We can all still learn from him. And you are so right - kids watch us much more than they listen to us. Funny, but we rarely remember that!

margalit said...

When your kids get older, you'll see how much they model your ideals. It is almost surprising to see how much they soak up by watching you interact with your daily life. They get that there are times when you're frazzled and don't think that this is necessarily a bad thing. Just teach them to be good people by being good yourself.

Michele sent me.

Aging Fabulous said...

There seems to be a lot of Silverstein fans and my 24 year old daughter is another one. She received his first book when she was a child and then asked for the second for Christmas. I remember reading poems to her as a child when she was sick. This year when I wasn't feeling well she returned the favor. You can't be sick listening to his poetry. Even as an adult lol...

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Michele sent me back again just now!


expatmama said...

I used to love Shel Silverstein!!! He had an enormous influence on my early work (um, like the poetry I wrote in fourth grade.) I think I'll see what books of his are available on Amazon.

And, I love the way you write about parenting-- lots of reflection and thought distilled into each post.