Children are (Indeed) Self-Propelled

It was one of those days when I lapsed into a maternal stupor. I struggled with everything. The
shrieks of my children made me lose my patience instantly, regardless of their actual intensity; my
own voice resonated in my ears, unpleasantly shrill and hostile, and then I just couldn’t care
anymore as indifference surfaced. I saw no hope for myself on that day. Normally, I consider myself
an expert in the field of saving the day multiple times: I usually fight tooth and nail and repeatedly
reset myself to make the most of the hours ahead. This time, however, I could not muster a strong
enough act of will to start anew. All I wanted was to make it until the end of the day, like a car with
flat tires that simply tries to make it to the nearest garage.

The weather outsider was indecisive, somewhat gloomy. In any case, I couldn’t let the kids play

To complete the deplorable image, I was wearing an old torn sock on my right foot. I did not feel like
changing or mending it. What for?

I was an appallingly boring companion. I was constantly busy doing things without getting them
done to any satisfactory degree – cannot recall what things exactly, I was probably trying to do the
usual household chores and childcare-related tasks– and all my children were hearing from me was,
“just a minute”, “soon”, “not now”, “I can’t do it now” in an irritated or resigned tone. I was
desperately trying to shake off my kids’ communication attempts as if they were highly annoying
swarms of flies. I did not bring an ounce of creativity to their life. I felt guilt: my perception was still
sharp and I knew full well that I could have played out that day a hundred times better.

Thankfully, I realized, children still manage to find a way to make progress even if their parents
experience some sort of temporary failure. It is because children are self-propelled and capable of
discovering things on their own. I am not writing this to absolve myself of the sin of wasting a day or
to encourage extreme forms of laissez-faire parenting. I am writing it to console myself and other
parents that a temporary failure is not the end of everything .

That bad day in particular showed me that when my children see that I’m not the best dialogue
partner or I avoid interaction altogether, they can simply retire into a corner where they are free to
delve deeper in their own resourcefulness and tap into their own creativity.
Eventually, the unhoped-for salvation of the day came, and it warmed my heart. My eldest came up
to me and asked for a needle and a thread. He declared that he wanted to learn to sew. I brought
the requested accessories and explained the basics. I told him how to bring the thread and the
needle eye together, tie a knot, decide on the the direction of sewing etc. After my short tutorial, my
son took off my torn sock from my foot with affection (perhaps it was just his endearing attention,
but it felt like pure affection to me), and mended the big hole on the big toe with the utmost zeal.
Excited by his success and tickled by my words of gratitude, he hopped upstairs to fetch another pair
of torn socks, this time from his brother’s drawer. He asked me to get another thread and needle
ready. Next, he wanted to know how to make a knight’s coat for a lego figure. I showed him how. I
was pleased and eager to help, encouraged by his enthusiasm. He made another lego coat,
somewhat clumsily, but all by himself.

The day was saved. My smile became even more radiant when, a bit later, I found my child copying
Chinese characters for ‘house’, ‘moon’ and ‘tree’ from a children’s book. This time, he did not come

to me for instructions: he is aware of the fact that I don’t know any Chinese. He decided to brave the
new project on his own, carried by his curiosity of the great wide world.


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