Saturday, September 18, 2010

Cracks in the Windshield

On Wednesday morning this past week, I packed the kids up in the car, turned on our favorite songs for singing with Katie, and was almost halfway to ballet when I noticed it: my windshield had a crack. A beautiful arching crack about the length of a dollar bill. Katie said it looked like a rainbow.

By noon we were heading to the bookstore, and I still was choosing not to deal with the crack. My husband will figure it out, I decided, when he gets home.

In the meantime, to see if it was spreading, I marked the end of the crack line with a crayon from Katie's backpack, and in we went to the bookstore.

Only when I came out and looked at the length the crack had spread beyond the crayon line (about 2 inches in an hour) did I realize that I could no longer put off the problem. If the windshield was to be replaced with any expedience, I would need to start making the proper phone calls as soon as we got home. The phone and I don't really go well together, even though I do force myself to take care of my responsibilities via phone if I must. I have no explanation for this, other than the phone and I have never gone well together: I'd rather speak with someone in person or use my writing to express myself. Sigh. I'd never called insurance about a cracked windshield before. What if I say something stupid? What if they think I cracked it? What if they tell me that they can't come out for several days to repair it? All silly questions. But my mind plays what-if a little too easily. For just a few seconds, I felt overwhelmed...and then remembered the secret to every business call: be myself and don't try to be perfect, be human. Above all, treat the person on the other end as a human being who wants to help you. A friendly and collaborative tone goes a long way...

Lately we've been dealing with the word "hate" in our house. For such a sweet little girl, Katie sure does "hate" a lot of things right now. Ice cubes in her water (though she normally asks for them). A bite of dinner that is too big. A cartoon character named Franny. The noise of a toy cow when you press it. Etc. I would claim that I do not know how she learned this word, which she is now applying indiscriminately, but I do know. I know, for example, that in the past few weeks I have said rather passionately that, "I hate ants." I am sure I have used it other times before.

Like a crack in the windshield, though, this constant "hating" of life around us, however mundane, feels like it is spreading. Even though she may or may not fully know the power behind that word, the negativity of it seems to spread of its own accord. I hear the word "hate" and I find myself "hating" that very word. Can a single word wield such power as to influence the tone around us? Some say words have only the power we give them, but are some words so powerful in themselves as concepts that they defy our attempts to intellectualize them?

I think so. Despite how often I have heard in scholarship that the "swear words" really take their power from irrationally giving them power, you will never hear Bill and I swearing in our house. Yes, they are just words---intellectually we know that. But to us they are only negative and breed only the negative.

I find myself getting so grumpy when I hear Katie using "hate" several times in an hour. The crack fragments, and spreads.

It is almost an overwhelming problem, and the anxiety it has caused lately is beyond description: what if Katie continues this mindset and grows up to be an unhappy person? what if I fail in showing her the beauty in this world? what if the tendency to hate is more powerful than the tendency to love?

All silly questions. She's a toddler, learning the power of words.

Still, I am working to change her vocabulary. We actually have put "hate" on a list of words we don't want to hear, as of yesterday. I give her the correct phrase each time: "You mean that you don't prefer to sit in that chair..." or "I strongly dislike having to go inside now."

Will I be able to repair this shield? (For words are the shields we use both to define ourselves and to keep ourselves safe, are they not)? How long will it take? How do I ensure that her little mind and heart stay focused on the good and pure and true?