On self-confidence and self-consciousness
The first time I notice S— (not as a newborn) playing with his belly on the floor I am flooded with emotions of how at ease he is. I stiffen. I am transported back to my childhood. Was I ever that comfortable?
He has his feet up in the air and moves around a LEGO toy within his limited reach. He slides over the hardwood to grab another piece. He’s like a cat, when they roll over from side to side, on their back to be pet because they feel secure to open up to you. The sun is bursting through the window and cutting across him with its shadow. A 3rd floor of a triplex will do that.
He did it again recently, in his room of our new home, with diffused north facing window light settling him in. He was tired after school and played like that until he rolled onto his side, with his arm tucked under his ear. His other arm moved back and forth rolling a buggy between his thumb and index finger on the hardwood. I stood quiet in the doorway, with an arched back and protruding belly, not wanting to enter into his experience.
Parenthood allows us to be spies in the house of love.
The moments I want to observe the most are the moments without performance or the tenacious, “Are you looking at me, mama?” Even though I am disarmed by his actions then too. Knowing how much my gaze, and in turn my validation, means to him. Perhaps like Sartre: “When I can't see myself I begin to wonder if I really and truly exist. I pat myself just to make sure, but it doesn't help much.”
In some weeks he will no longer be the singular centre of my world and I want to indulge him with my attention. Although, I'm ambivalent about how he learns to sustain my attention by watching how I orient my gaze in those performances, him living life is worthy enough.
His gestures are self-confident. What is it about his relaxed pose that disarms yet stiffens me? I breathe into my vehement reaction, reminded of childhood noes. The noes that made me self-conscious, unsure of how to contend with my desires against a backdrop of invalidation.
In Warsaw, when I was a little older than my son’s age now, in my grandparent’s hutch was a large set of Staedtler pencil crayons that I wasn’t allowed to use until I proved my worth. No one was using these “Western” pencil crayons, yet I couldn’t use them. My surrealist utopias as antidotes to the gruelling Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales my mother used to read me were never deserving enough and neither was my proprioception with the meager set of hand-me-down pencil crayons I used. Sometimes, if I didn’t put them back in their trivets immediately they would fall to the floor.
“If you keep dropping them you will cause the lead inside to break and ruin everything. You’re not ready for the fancy ones.” My grandmother would scold me, even though we had enough money to buy more.
When no one was around I would turn off the radio to hear any approaching footsteps, and turn the key left in its door to open the teak hutch and caress the crayons, imagining their hexagonal angles pressed between my fingers, their nibs gliding along the paper, and how their colours could invent worlds that weren’t my reality. I’m not sure I ever tried to use them. My grandmother was the type of person who would not only inspect the sharp nib of the crayon, she would rub it against her finger to feel if it had changed. Her body didn’t trust her gaze and that made everyone comply with her.
I tried to develop a disciplined drawing practice using my crayons one by one and creating more traditional scenes, but it never worked. The noes, in my memories, are as vivid as the colours of the Staedtler’s. Only when I visited my grandparents’ home as an adult I noticed that it was slanted just enough for things without traction to roll.
One of the features of our current 1920’s house is its slant, which makes wheel- and ball-type objects roll. S— loves that. It gives his play movement. The movement he revels in when he’s on the floor of our home on his belly being at ease and in peace. There’s not much he’s not welcome to. Our home belongs to us.
He’s just turned six. He doesn’t need to climb a ladder someone else built of their assumptions of worth for access. He needs to explore, experiment, and fail in action of a welcoming home.