Thought No. 4: Sunday / by Jennifer Wisniewski

“I got 99 problems … but Stella ain’t one.”

“Momma – it’s report card pickup day tomorrow.  Are you going?”

“Yes.  I took the whole day off.  I’ll be there.”  (I lied.)

“Really?”  Stella exclaimed. 

“Yes, of course baby.  I’m on it.” 

I completely forgot about it, but could feel her excitement. I thought to myself, “Is it normal that a ten year old girl would be this ecstatic about her Mother picking up her report card? Or, was it a response to the fact that she would be getting my undivided attention?”

When we awoke the next day, she asked me every 15 minutes when I would be going. At 11a, I had to reassure her that we were still going. She muttered “Ok” – like an old lady who heard the same tall tale a million times and lost faith in the world around her a long time ago.

I got to the school and sat down with her teacher (who herself has a baby and one on the way) and she asked, “What did you do to raise such a sweet child?” I replied, “I didn’t do anything." Her eyes widened and softened, like I said something enlightening. Her praise of my child continued: “She just lights up a room – and is so kind and thoughtful to the other children.  You must be doing something right." I thought about her questions … I don’t really have any parenting rules. Whether she eats her broccoli (or leaves it to get cold on the plate) doesn’t keep me up at night. Nor do I think something like that will have an effect on her being a fully formed adult (or not.) The point I am trying to make? I do not think it is my job to tell her how or who to be. I let her tell me that. I’m simply thankful she is well-liked by her peers and her grades are good, but my major concerns are: Is she happy? – and – Does she love herself?

As all parents know, there is no right or wrong way to parent – but I did address the fact that the situation Stella and I are in might be unique. I own a restaurant and I’m a single mom (I mention this as a fact, not a complaint and/or to play “the victim card”.) I went on to say that – due to the circumstances – I am distracted and focused on something else most of the time. But, there is one parenting rule that I live by.

I was watching an interview with author, Toni Morrison, and she was asked a question about raising children. This was her answer: “’Does your face light up [when you see your children]?’, because that allows your face to speak how your heart feels.”

So, if I can’t be with Stella on the weekend. If I can’t go on field trips. If I’m always on the phone. If I didn’t make dinner. If we can’t go on vacation. If I can’t do any of those things – there is always one simple thing I can do: light up when I see her. I take a moment when she walks through the door – not to criticize or judge her – but to light up like a pinball machine.

I know I got a good egg – and regardless of what kind of parent I am, she would be the same exact person she is now. I can discuss the “nature vs. nurture” theory forever and I lean toward “nature” most of the time, because of my own experience. That is a story for another time, but I do know this: whether a child or an adult – if a person knows they are loved and valued, they will behave better. Children are no exception to that Golden Rule.

P.s. Please watch Toni Morrison break it down here.