There haven’t been a lot of opportunities this year for Kina to find ambient approval for her many good works. She gets these moments of affirmation where she can: from us, from her nanny, from the cashiers at the local grocery store, from her teachers on Zoom. The absence of a robust and natural feedback cycle had worried me for a while, but now I think the quiet has really strengthened her sense of self in a year in which Kina has come to know Kina better than anybody else. This morning, I watched her place a little pillow in exactly the right place on her bed and mutter “Good job, me.” It seems like a little thing to be so proud of, but I am a lifetime self-critic, and so it caught me off guard. Because we only have the one kid, it’s hard to know when self-affirmation generally enters the picture for children; all I know is that Kina has begun very clearly to demonstrate the kind of appreciation for her own behaviors that I frankly still haven’t mastered. The grace she extends to herself is both encouraging and astonishing to me.
Loyal readers of The Daily Kina will recall a stretch of apology storylines last year that culminated in a story on Kina’s self-absolution. In exploring her profound acts of forgiveness, I spent some time trying to identify the ways in which we had sent subtle signals about what we thought was wrong, and yet Kina’s osmotic awareness of our values—the things we uphold—seems just as powerful as her internalization of what we forbid. She looks to us for silent cues on those values: responsibility, patience, sharing, curiosity, and the committed performance of overwrought musical numbers. As I’ve watched her absorb these things, and as I’ve seen her take joy in acts like sharing food or arranging pillows, I’ve realized that I’m watching her build her own set of intrinsic values, which she will someday hold as principles that are worthy in their own right—not as means to some profitable end.
How do I know what Kina’s values are? I look to see what she does when we are not looking. We never have to cajole her to clean up; tidiness is among her values. She starts each day with a story; good storytelling is among her values. When she places a single piece of rigatoni on my plate at dinner, I can see that generosity is among her values. And of course, when she demands a fourth live performance of “Show Yourself” from Frozen II, it is obvious that she has inherited our deep-seated value of the committed performance of overwrought musical numbers.
It’s possible that Kina learned to affirm herself from us, or at least from her mother. “Good job, me” is very much the kind of thing that Laurea might say, and she’d probably also say that you can’t really expect anybody else to appreciate you if you don’t appreciate yourself. That sense of confidence in one’s own strengths is something I’d really hoped that Kina would inherit from Laurea, and I’m encouraged to see it in the wild. I do not often say “Good job, me” to myself, and I hesitate to imagine what it would be like if Kina were—as I sometimes am—tormented by her flaws, rather than uplifted by her strengths. At the moment, this seems like something I don’t have to worry about, and I’ve started to take these cues from my own daughter. I’m hoping I still have it in me to build my own intrinsic values, and to add to them the value of pride in a well-placed pillow.