This evening while we were brushing teeth before bed, I mentioned that our bathroom scale didn’t seem to be working. Here’s the conversation that followed:
Halen: Oh, maybe we could take it apart and make it into something else! . . . We could program it to be a robot or something.
Me: I don’t know much about programming.
Halen: Maybe I could make a download for it. Can you make a download for me?
Me: I don’t know how to make a download for programming bathroom scales. I’m afraid this is not my area of expertise, Halen.
Halen: What I need is to get a few guys who are really smart, and then we can do it together.
Grace: Well, I was too smart for preschool, so. . . .
Halen, of course, completely ignored Grace’s self-aggrandizing offer to help. It’s unfortunate that younger siblings never get the credit they deserve for being so servile.
I remember doing all sorts of sycophantic things for my older siblings: I let my sister learn to French braid using my hair; I let my brother cut my hair off; when my sister needed someone to be the ugly Barbie, I was there; when my brother needed someone to test his tree house for sturdiness, I’d test it. I was just so thrilled with the privilege of playing with them that for years I didn’t mind being a doormat.
It’s easy as adults to watch our children’s interactions through the lens of our own experiences—to want everything to be as fair for them as we’d want for ourselves, or to answer their ponderings as quickly as we’d answer our own. But the truth is that it takes some struggling and some maturity to learn which questions are actually worth pursuing, which injustices are worth righting (or even acknowledging), which opportunities are worth giving our all for.
If our mortal experience were limitless, we could throw our whole selves into every whim and passion. But it’s not. Mortality is inherently bounded. Maybe some of our generation can “be whatever we want to be,” but only in a limited sense—we can’t be everything we want to be. Humans were made to specialize, and they have only about a decade or three before they’re locked into their specialty.
I’m not ashamed that I don’t know how to reprogram a broken bathroom scale into a robot, because although it’s mildly interesting, it’s not something I want to specialize in. And I’m not ashamed to allow Grace to continue to be a sycophantic little sister. If she finds joy in the experience, why not let her explore it until she has learned something, well and deeply?