I've been thinking about kindness lately, and how much of it is conscious, and how much of it is innate. What do you think about this? I believe some people have a talent for kindness: being thoughtful and generous is their natural default. I married someone like that. Mr B is generous beyond anyone I have ever met, and I get to witness this every day. A long time ago I told this little story about Mr B and the simple kindnesses by which he marks his days. These events are not even remotely unusual in life with my husband.
So here's what I am thinking about. There is a lot of noise out in the world about the tiny dictatorship that is the toddler attitude, and I'm no stranger to what that means. On any given day, I can be screamed at because the mandarin didn't stay in one piece after we peeled it, or because I didn't wash and dry the Peppa Pig top in time for Madeleine to wear it an hour after she spilled food on it, or because I lifted her off the swing after only 40 minutes of pushing.
Recently Mr B bought me a copy of the Reasons My Kid is Crying book and it really did make us laugh. The poor little tot on the cover is heartbroken because somebody broke his cheese in half. Madeleine has actually made that same face over an identical tragic dairy-related event.
But do you know what? As any parent, or guardian, or aunty or uncle or grandparent or friend or babysitter or big brother or sister or anyone else who spends big chunks of time with a toddler could attest, these little people have a natural tendency for love, and affection and, yes, kindness and even thoughtfulness.
Sometimes when I am so tired that for a moment I just have to put my palms over my eyes and press, hard, to stop the pain from exploding out of my temples, Madeleine places her own sticky palms over my hands. "Hi Mummy," she will softly say, with a smile.
"Poor Harry," Madeleine will announce, when Harry is crying. Then she will run over to him and make the funny noise that only she can make that always makes him laugh, or do a little dance for him, or give him a toy (or six). Then she will run to me and report back. "Harry waa waa! Me la-la-la. Me toy." And I'll say "Thank you for helping, is he happy now?" She will beam. "Yes!"
Like most toddlers, Madeleine loves to help. She wipes down her little table after eating, she helps me load the washing into the dryer, she holds doors and gates open for me when I'm pushing the pram (that is actually genuinely helpful), and she even 'helps' lift the pram up the steps and into our house. When she asks for apple and I give it to her, she says "Day doo (thank you) Mummy!" in a happy singsong voice, unprompted. It melts my heart every time.
In quiet moments, Madeleine strokes my hair, or kisses me, or snuggles into me just because... love.
When she is kind to me, or her brother, or a little friend, I make a big deal with the recognition and the praise. Because her kindness, her generosity of spirit, it's all there. I believe it is innate in Madeleine, as it is in all of us. Terrible Twos and Tiny Dictators and tantrums and sharing lessons not-yet-learned... they are all there too. But there is enough noise about those things in the world.
I don't believe in the concept of original sin. I believe in original kindness. Original love. Original affection. Yes yes, and original want, and original selfishness, and original... I don't know... frustration! I guess I believe in original humanity. And I am proud, oh so proud, of the kind and thoughtful little humans that my children are today, as well as the big humans that they are to become.