All parents believe their child is the greatest at everything: the smartest, the fastest, the most developed of their age. Honestly, have you ever heard parents brag about how average their child is? “Yes, well, my little girl is completely within normal range of her class. She is reading/walking/talking/growing within the top fifty percent of her peers. She’s at exactly the point that the doctors/teachers/counselors say she should be.” So I’m aware I’m fitting into this file when I brag and say that my five-month-old painted fire. I don’t want to be that parent who claims their child is the greatest child ever born. At least, not beyond reason.
Okay, but seriously, folks. My beautiful little girl is pretty average in terms of development – a fact in which I’m thrilled. Every milestone that she hits at the appropriate time and stage is something I’m terrifically proud of. I’m pleased that my baby is normal. At this stage, average is good. Because anything outside of average – below or above – is something to be concerned about. She’s not walking or talking or eating or developing behind or ahead of schedule. I praise God for this fact every day.
But then she brings home some artwork and my mind is blown. Take a look at it. Oh my word, my baby did this! She painted a firetruck (mostly)! And that fire? That is some seriously scary shit right there. We’re talking Backdraft-quality flames here, a rolling blaze that will instantly consume any building with its insatiable hunger for oxygen and fuel. Here’s how you know what a dangerous fire that is: the firetruck had to rush so fast to the scene that most of its red has fallen off.
So I’m no idiot; I know that although it was my little girl’s fingers upon which the paint was applied, it was a daycare worker who held and guided the hand, if solely to keep her from shoving those dainty little fingers in the place they spend most of their time (her mouth). I realize that there was very little artistic or creative thought behind her painting. But the daycare worker informed us that while most of the infants cried and screamed their displeasure with having paint applied to their fingers, our little girl smiled and enjoyed the whole enterprise. Does this mean she’s a budding painter? I don’t know, maybe. Truthfully, she smiles and enjoys pretty much everything she does. But it’s one more thing to be proud of.
Ultimately, though, what is so amazing to me is not that my beautiful girl fingerpainted or even that she enjoyed fingerpainting. What I love about these little artworks is that my baby made something besides poo. Developmental psychologist Erik Erikson described the mid-life adult phase of development as being about generativity versus stagnation. After adults have learned to experience and express intimacy, they then seek to describe the meaning of their existence through the accomplishments they can measure, particularly as they learn to pass this on to the next generation so as to ensure a sense of contribution to the human race. I’m aware that my pride in my little girl’s generativity is located mostly in my own developmental phase. (According to Erikson, my little girl is primarily concerned right now about whether or not she can trust me and her mother.) But I can’t help but be in awe of the possibilities of what my daughter can and will create in her lifetime. I could describe this little artwork as an expression of my daughter’s generativity, but it’s really about my generativity. I am thrilled to think that I might be contributing to the gradual ascension of the human race by giving birth to and raising this beautiful little girl who is already (with a lot of help) learning to explore the world around her in exciting new ways.
You see, if you look closely at the fire, you can discern the grooves of my little girl’s fingerprints. My beautiful daughter’s fingerprints are in that painting. The mark of her touch is on that paper. And it’s only the beginning. Where else will she leave her mark? What will she do in her life that will express the richness of her existence? She’s still got a whole lot of development ahead of her in Erikson’s scheme before she gets to generativity: trust, autonomy, initiative, industry, identity and intimacy. But I celebrate my own generativity in my beautiful little girl. When she smiles, my fingerprint is there somewhere. When she giggles, when she kicks, when she delights herself with the sudden realization that she can roll herself over – somewhere in there is my own fingerprint. But the strange thing is that I’m more proud of her than I am of me. I guess that’s a true mark of adult development in generativity versus stagnation: that I can look outside of myself and rejoice in the mysterious process of creation and procreation. I’m thrilled by the gift of seeing my child develop into her own person, and I treasure the unfathomable blessing of getting to participate in her life.
I mean, I just love that fire. Because, wow, I just my love my little girl.