On Kindness

There are many things I wish for my children. Perhaps more than anything, though, I hope for kindness. Other traits, such as intelligence, will make their life easier, yes, but kindness will not only enrich their life, but also the lives of others. And that’s important to me. As such, I was the parent at Sophie’s preschool parent-teacher conference this week who, while being told Sophie “efficiently uses scissors,” asked, “Yes, but is she kind?”

While I strive for kindness at home, Sophie’s 3-1/2. Just today she lost Halloween candy after dinner and was sent to time-out for hitting her brother. I don’t know how she is around other children—preschool is her first experience with a large group of same-aged individuals, without me. I often think of the “Everybody Loves Raymond” episode in which Ray and Debra fear their daughter is being bullied only to discover that she, actually, is the one doing the bullying. Even before I was a parent that episode terrified me.

But then there was tonight, which I will remember more fondly than the “report card” I took home earlier this week. Andy put Sophie to bed. She then told him that she wanted me to do “leave and come back.” (“Leave and come back” is the unfortunate way in which we get her to go to sleep now. One of us stays upstairs and checks in on her at one minute, three minutes, five minutes, 10 minutes and so on until she’s asleep.) She said it was because she loved Andy “this much” (and she held her hands a certain distance) and that she loved me “this much” (and she held her hands farther apart).

Andy came downstairs and told me what happened. I reminded him that she’s 3-1/2.

I went upstairs and Sophie smiled. “One minute,” was all I said. When I came back to tell her “three minutes” she said, “Can you get Daddy for me?”

“Why?” I asked.

“Just because,” she said. “I need to talk to him about something.”

So I got Andy. And I listened, from my bedroom, to my 3-1/2-year-old apologize to her dad without any prompting. She said she was joking and that she loved us both the same.

I was proud of her, of what her teacher said at her at the parent-teacher conference. But I was prouder tonight. (And also a little worried that she inherited the intense guilt I often feel, even when unwarranted.) No one is kind all the time. No one should be. Life calls for meanness, at times, I know that. And I know there will be some tough years, especially the junior high school years, in which meanness easily trumps kindness, even though it shouldn’t. But tonight wasn’t about meanness for something as honorable as justice. Rather, she somehow recognized that her words to her dad could have been interpreted as unkind. And I’ll take that over a check mark in the “developing appropriately” box next to “ability to hold pencil correctly” any day. If she’s mostly kind—if all my children are mostly kind, when it matters most, I will be happy.

“When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.” —Abraham Joshua Heschel