October 10, 2014
By Ekta R. Garg
There’s a saying in Hindi that, roughly translated, basically states that no one comes into this world having learned things from the womb. In other words, if we want our kids to learn something we have to take responsibility as parents and teach them. Sure, kids will learn some things from observation and their circumstances. But they will only learn other things—most things—by direct, active intervention.
Every morning when I drop the kids off at their schools, I tell both of them that I love them, that I hope they have a good day, and that I’ll see them at the end of school. Six in her typical fashion answers with an “Okay” and gets out of the car. Eight leans forward for a kiss, says goodbye, and hops out.
The girls normally didn’t say goodbye to one another. I understand that because they’re so close, for them the school day just functions as an eight-hour interruption to a conversation that basically has no end. But I saw an opportunity to instill a little sense of propriety and decided to take it.
Several weeks ago I told Eight I wanted her to say goodbye to her sister every morning. She had to say goodbye, I told her, and tell her sister she loved her and that she hoped Six had a good day. Eight came back to me with a funny response.
“That feels weird,” she said as we drove to her school.
“Why does it feel weird?” I asked.
“I don’t know, it just feels weird to tell her that I love her and say bye.”
“I tell you I love you, and that doesn’t feel weird,” I said.
“I don’t know,” she said. “It just is.”
“Even if it’s weird, I want you to do it. It might feel weird at first, but after a while you’ll get used to it.”
“[Six] doesn’t say bye to me,” Eight said, trying for one last-ditch effort to get out of it.
“Doesn’t matter,” I said right away. “You’re the big sister. You can set a good example for her, and if you do it for her she’ll start doing it for you.”
She huffed and sighed, but she gave in. For the last three or four weeks, Eight has said goodbye to her sister, told her she loved her, and that she hoped Six would have a good day. Sometimes Eight remembers on her own; sometimes I have to remind her. But she’s done it every day.
And every day Six has replied “Okay” and gotten out of the car.
I realize I should ask Six to do the same, especially considering her less-than-enthusiastic response, but I wanted to make the point for Eight first. Also, I know that Six’s response has nothing to do with a lack of love and everything to do with her shyness when it comes to receiving affection. Only recently Six started coming to me and turning her chin up for a kiss, which for her is a really big deal. She can be incredibly affectionate when the mood strikes but many times feels a little embarrassed by overt displays of love. I’m working on helping her see that lots of hugs and kisses are only good things, and she’s catching up to the idea.
I wondered whether Eight would push back at some point, but she hasn’t. Her goodbye spiel has started sounding less like an automaton and more like she actually means it. Teaching her to extend some love first thing in the morning may have started out as a “weird” feeling, but it’s becoming a part of our routine.
More than that, on Wednesday morning when Eight said goodbye, I heard Six murmur “Bye” in return.
Now that I know Six has started to expect her sister to say goodbye, I can gently turn the tables on her. In the next week or so I’ll start to encourage her to do the same for her big sister. Getting dropped off first doesn’t make a difference in when sisters say goodbye to one another.
It may seem like a small thing, and maybe it is, but I hope to make the girls understand that kindness, like charity, starts from home. If we can maintain kindnesses between each other, it’ll be that much easier to extend kindness to others. Both girls already have a great capacity for compassion.
Compassion and kindness go hand in hand, as the girls often do, and I hope to turn both qualities into strengths for the kids.