Monday, February 14, 2011

Dioramas, Forgiveness, and OCD

Baker came home with his first diorama project. We all remember dioramas from our past: cute, little shoebox representations of a book we read, a social studies report, or a science project. Wait, did I say cute, little shoebox representations? I meant tortures from the depths of hell that strain a parent/child relationship and mar the psyche.

While helping Baker with his project, I thought back frequently to my own experience with these sorts of projects. A blog was forming in my mind. I was going to write about the emotional damage inflicted on me as my father sought to "help" me with my dioramas. I thought about how my dad would start out with little suggestions or I'd ask for help with one aspect and the next thing I knew, he had taken the project over. I vaguely remember my idea for a representation of a Sumerian ziggurat that became this massive Plaster of Paris nightmare. It was stark white, it was heavy (did I mention I walked to elementary school?), and it was nothing like what I originally envisioned. Years later, I looked back on how my dad took over these projects and I thought it was his way of saying he had no faith in me. I thought he was giving me a silent message that I was no good at this kind of thing and I needed his help.

This Sunday at church, the sermon was on true forgiveness. Our minister talked about how there is no formula for forgiveness and sometimes it must be given without any expectation from the person being forgiven. She pointed out that true forgiveness is as much for the forgiver as the one forgiven. She talked about keeping flawed personalities in our lives even if we struggle with those flaws. But only if we can truly accept and forgive those flaws. She pointed out that the path to true forgiveness isn't an easy one. It requires reaching down inside ourselves. As Alexander Pope so aptly put it, "to err is human, to forgive divine."

And so, on Sunday, I found myself thinking about how my father made me feel as a child and forgiveness. I found myself surprised by what I found. The original blog I wrote in my head went something along the lines of "I will never do to my children what was done to me." I was going to talk about how important it is for children to make their own mistakes. I was going to point out that the parents who do projects for their kids aren't teaching them anything, but taking away from their independence and self-esteem. I still think this is all true. But, I also see what my father did in a different light.

One of the personality traits I inherited from my father is a bit of OCD. I like things to be a certain way. I like them to be "perfect." When I scrapbook and something is off-center, it makes me a bit nuts. Early in our marriage, my husband would purposely move the coasters on our coffee table a degree off and see how long it took me to notice and fix them. I've let go of some of that since having kids. Anyone whose been to my house recently can attest to that. But, helping Baker with his project brought some of that back quickly. I cringed when he ignored me and used a glue stick instead of Elmer's to glue the box and lid together. I was sure it would come apart. It didn't. I was relieved when the first bamboo picture he picked out couldn't be used. It had no foreground and I thought it would look weird. When I went to print it, the quality was too poor to print, so he picked a different picture. Either would have been fine: his ground cover covered the bottom of the picture anyway. I started to get upset when he over-painted his box and decided the river should be in the middle instead of the edge where I thought it should be. The list goes on.

I don't think my son is incompetent. I don't think I always know whats best. But, there is that voice in the back of your mind that says, "what if his isn't as good as the other kids and he's upset?" I suspect some of my father's own behavior stemmed from that same question. I also think it is easy to see our kids as extensions of ourselves. If they fail, we fail. We've done something wrong. Maybe we didn't foster creativity. Maybe we didn't give them imaginative play. If our own self-esteem isn't strong, it is easy to be fearful of their failure. Looking back at my father's behavior, I think this might have been the case. He didn't fear that I was no good at diorama making, but that he wasn't being a good father. I can see now, whatever was going on for him, it wasn't the purposeful attempt to undermine my confidence. It was a reflection of his on errors and frailties as a human being. And for that, I can forgive.

I didn't do things with Baker like my dad did with me. Despite some misgivings, I bit my tongue, sat on my hands, and let Baker do things his way. I helped him when he asked for it and stepped back when he didn't need me. It was hard to do. I worried about how it would come out, but I tried to remind myself of the ship building exercise. Earlier in the year, he had to make a ship. I didn't help him with it at all. He used an old plastic tray for the bottom, paper for the sail, and a Tinkertoy for the mast. Some other child had a Popsicle stick boat that looked like a museum exhibit. I'm pretty sure the parent did it, but maybe the kid was just an idiot savant with Popsicle sticks. Either way, Baker didn't notice the difference in ships. His ship floated and he was happy with it.

1 comment:

  1. Jenn,if I share a story about Dad and his mother,perhaps you will gain some insight in how things get handed down from generation to generation. One of the first things Dad did when we moved into our house was to replace the front steps. Do you remember that? When Gran and Dangy came to visit,Dangy looked at the cement steps and told dad he did a good job. Gran just kept saying over and over "I can't believe you did this. I didn't know you could do something like this." It sounds like a compliment,doesn't it. But if you look below the surface,it is a declaration of disbelieve. The hidden message was,you are not capable of doing this. She was just communicating to her son in a way that she learned from her own parents. I can only guess this from hearing stories about her childhood. And if there was ever a case of OCD, Gran displayed the classic symptoms.And we know that forgiveness was not in her vocabulary.

    I applaud you for seeing the chain of events,being able to analyze it and start the process of ending it with your generation. I am proud of you.