Through Our Cynical Eyes

Somehow in the eight years she’s been alive, Olivia claims she has never been shopping at a mall. Sure there have been a few visits to Santa or photography studios, but never a traditional visit from store to store since she’s been old enough to remember. I couldn’t believe it when she told me.

For someone as old and grizzled as I am, the mall is more of an eye rolling errand. I don’t “go” there anymore. Now I “run to” the mall or “stop” on the way home. I haven’t been excited about going to the mall since the days of Orange Julius and K.B. Toy Stores.

To my daughter, though, it is all still new. In fact, everything is new. Her reaction when I told her I would take her yesterday was a huge smile, hop in the air, and excited, “Yay!”

IMG_9338Outside of a life-changing moment like a lottery win, it’s hard to imagine a scenario that would evoke a similar reaction from me at this stage of my life. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I’ve gotten the T-Shirt. I’ve worn the T-Shirt until it had holes and ketchup stains on it. Then I threw the T-Shirt out.

Even after witnessing her ecstatic reaction to this mall expedition, my immediate thought was, “I’m so glad she’s excited, but damn, I don’t feel like going to the mall.”

It’s not that I’m a negative person (or at least I try not to be). It’s just that life has a way of forcing negativity on us through the years. The new experiences that were once plentiful have since been replaced by played-out visits to places you’ve seen a million times before. The number of things you experience start to get outnumbered by the things you tolerate. Familiarity breeds contempt and it’s easy to focus on the bad hidden in the good. Once you see the first crack, you start to see them all.

I’m sure your expectation in reading this by now is to hear about how I spent the day at the mall with Olivia and saw it though her eyes. I watched her in wonder as she watched it in wonder and we all felt wonderful – flowers, puppies, unicorns, the whole nine. While that’s true, it would only be part of the reason behind this post and excuse me from taking personal responsibility for my own actions.

I’m not writing this to simply tell the story of seeing the world through Olivia’s eyes, but also about accidentally making her see the world through mine. There have been a few examples I could cite, but one from a few years back stuck out to me and genuinely changed my way of thinking.

When my daughter watches a TV show, she watches it into the ground. In today’s On Demand world, she doesn’t diversify her television-watching portfolio. It’s one show, episode after episode, day after day, until you find yourself drowning in the laugh track background noise. There have been many programs on her water-torture list through the years, but it all started with a show I introduced – The Brady Bunch.

I had been having another annoying adult day when Olivia was sitting on the living room floor, once again clicking the “next” button on Hulu every 23 minutes. Just as we reached the end of one Brady adventure, another would begin. They always kicked off with that infamous theme song.

I reacted in a way that many grownups do when something has reached its irritation point. I over-exaggerated my annoyance, covered my ears, and jokingly exclaimed, “Ah! I hate the Brady Bunch! Olivia laughed. I laughed. It’s how we, the disenchanted and exhausted parents, express humor during trying times. Almost as soon as I did it, I forgot about it.

Days later, Olivia was in my home office watching yet another tale from Mike and Carol Brady’s Bunch when I walked in and said, “Oh, cool. I remember this episode. Can I watch it with you?”

Why? You hate the Brady Bunch.

I was stunned. The Bradys were something that I considered “our thing”. As the person who sat her down for her first episode, I couldn’t imagine where she would get that idea. How could she have possibly misinterpreted something I said to reach such a conclusion?

Why do you think that?

Because you said it. You said “I hate the Brady Bunch.”

In that moment, I felt awful. I realized that I had brought this cynical form of half-“humor” into my daughter’s world when she was still at an age that she didn’t understand it. While adults can claim to hate musicians, songs, shows, movies, food, and other innocuous things under the guise of exaggerated humor, our kids don’t. To them, saying you hate something means you hate it. It’s not just an expression of frustration wrapped around a tired day. It’s literal and slowly extinguishes their passion for the world.

IMG_9333Since that day I’ve made a real effort to react in the opposite way. Whenever Olivia is excited about something, I am too. There have been many stories that I didn’t even understand about people I never met that I respond with, “Wow! That’s so cool!” It’s not always easy, but I know that it helps foster the enthusiasm that she has today and will hopefully retain tomorrow.

So, yes. We went to the mall and I watched her walk from store to store with excited eyes that see it as if it was invented yesterday. It filled me with a sense of joy that I, as a war weary adult, rarely experience. We both ended the day on a happy note. She had pulled my mood up rather than me dragging hers down.

It might not be easy to stay positive in the face of aggravation, but it’s the best thing for both of us. At the end of the day, it’s far better to gaze at the world through the eyes of an eight year old than forcing her to glare at it through mine.