My friend Kate came to visit us this week. She gets a whole name mention because she is a Kate…one of the ones who has helped me find my own Kateness over the years. When we first became friends we were “the Kates” and I have some really great memories of that time in high school and college. She moved to Tanzania a few years ago because God told her to (soon after I had a kid and became a stay-at-home mom because God told me to. It’s a funny old world). Now she’s back for a year for a medical leave because her back is all messed up and she can get better care here.
The thing about Kate is that she sinks deeply into a role, or a culture, or really whatever she’s doing. So when she comes back here it’s hard for her to reintegrate, and it takes a long while. We spend a lot of time having conversations like this:
“E.’s little dress is really beautiful. Did you make it yourself? Oh wait…do people ask about that in America? Is that a thing?”
“Yes, that’s a thing. I don’t know if everyone would like that, but I do. Thank you.”
The “Is that a thing–yes that’s a thing” dynamic didn’t truly strike me until I saw my daughter and my friend together the past couple of days. They I realized that they are both having almost the same issue. And without even realizing it, I’ve started treating E. as though she has been in Africa for a significant part of her life. Because kids can go through culture shock too. Only, their cultures are smaller so it doesn’t take moving to a new continent, or even a new house. Receiving a baby is quite enough to send kids into a tailspin of confusion around what the culture of the home and family are going to be.
To be honest, the culture of our family has changed quite a bit since S. I sleep differently which means I am differently awake during the day (coffee can only help so much, you know?? And anyway I’ve limited my intake as I’m caffeinating my son too which could eventually make him more wakeful; though it hasn’t been a problem thus far). I can’t always just go with her right when I want to because there is someone else to bring along or to stay with. And mostly, she’s come along beautifully. But we have our issues. So I have begun attempting to just respond to them as though she’s trying to learn a now unfamiliar culture.
She screams. I say, “I still don’t like it when you scream right next to me. That’s still a thing.”
She throws things inside the house. I say, “It wasn’t safe to throw that in here before you had a brother, and it’s still not safe now. It’s still a thing.”
She pees on the floor. I say, “We still make our pee go in the toilet, or we wear diapers. I still don’t enjoy cleaning pee off the floor. That’s still a thing.”
I ask her to get in the car. She runs to the back of the yard. I say, “Before you had a brother, did I tell you things just to be mean to you?”
“Ughhh. No, Mom.”
“Why do I tell you things?”
“To help me. Or to keep me safe.”
“Well, that’s still what we do. That’s still a thing. So please get in the car.”
And it seems to actually work. Amazingly well. We’ve had some stressful times in the past month (you know what? It really isn’t fun to clean pee off the floor). But we are reserving sweeping judgment of her based on her behavior until…well, hopefully until never but certainly until after we’ve had time to set up a culture. But setting up a family culture without letting its structure be determined by the selfishness and insecurity that is all around us and wants to creep in like a poisoned gas our lungs appear to want is really, really hard. But it’s worth the fight. Because I love my family. And that’s still a thing.