I assume I know my children pretty well. I know their likes, dislikes, fears and dreams. I believe my son to be a relatively shy individual, and I know that my daughter, who enjoys her personal space, will never be an overly affectionate child. No real surprises there.
I used to know these things, anyway. Now, I'm not so sure.
My son joined a football league recently and was given a packet of raffle tickets to sell. Personally, I don't like selling anything, from wrapping paper to Girl Scout cookies to Pampered Chef. The very thought of it makes me want to breathe into a paper bag. Since my son is so very much like me, I assumed he was the same. I was prepared to buy all of his tickets to spare him the anxiety.
Before I had a chance, though, we went to my niece's birthday party. Her best friend's mother, whom we'd met briefly the previous summer, asked my son how summer plans were coming.
"They're going well," he replied. "In fact, I just registered for Pop Warner football today. Would you like to buy a raffle ticket?"
I immediately started laughing nervously, throwing apologetic looks at the woman for my son's directness. He glared at me and said under his breath, "Mom, stop laughing. You'll ruin my sale."
I slunk away, confused. I assumed that since I hated selling, he would hate selling. I was wrong. He's a natural. When an aunt said, "Honey, would you like to have more cake?" my son replied, "No, thank you. Would you like to buy a raffle ticket?" Again, I was dumbstruck and started up with the nervous laughter.
"This is so weird for me," I said to the gathering, embarrassed. "I just assumed -"
"Well, you know what they say," my husband interrupted. "When you make an assumption, you make an -'"
"Yes, and there's another saying," I said, interrupting his interruption. "'When you say that about assumptions, you risk getting beaten senseless with a paper towel roll.' Ever hear that one? It's one of my personal favorites." But of course he was right.
The following week, my children's piano teacher walked us out to our car. As my son kissed me before climbing in, she remarked, "What wonderful children you have, and so different from each other."
"Thank you," I said. "They really are awesome -- and they really are different." My voice then dropped to a whisper. "For instance, my daughter has never kissed me. Not once. She's just not big on public displays of affection... or private ones, come to think of it!"
"I heard that," she called from the car. I smiled. "Nothing wrong with her hearing, though!" I said happily.
A few days later, as she got ready to leave for an early soccer game, I said, "Mommy can't go, so give me a kiss goodbye." In her life, this means offering the top of her head. I kissed it, turned to walk away, and heard a distinct "uunnnnh."
I turned back and saw my girl, lips puckered, waiting to kiss me. Apparently she didn't want to un-pucker long enough to say, "Hey, get back here!" I bent down and accepted her kiss -- on the lips! -- and stood in the driveway crying in my pajamas as she and her father left.
I just assumed that since she had never kissed me, she would never kiss me. It's almost as if she were simply waiting for permission from me to do something new. Which is kind of sad.
How much have I been limiting my children by putting these errant beliefs on them? The fact that my girl never kissed me only means that she never kissed me. Period. I just assumed . . . again. The danger is that when we make these assumptions about people, about our children, we pigeon-hole them. And thus begins a cycle of the self-fulfilling prophecy - "Well, Mom doesn't think I like to kiss, so I must not like to kiss, so I guess I won't kiss." And Mommy doesn't get kissed.
If we don't put the limits on them in the first place, then they won't need to break out of them. They can just be whatever they want to be, whenever they want to be it. So I'm going to try to let go of what I thought I knew about my kids, and let them keep surprising me. And a word of advice?
Get out your wallet, and pucker up. You never know what's going to happen around here.