“If you don’t start out too big for your britches, how are you gonna fill ’em when you grow up?”
– Stephen King
There are times, many, in fact, that I wonder if Cole doesn’t have a tad more ego than the average dirty-pants’d six-year old. Maybe ego is the wrong word. Maybe it’s not. I’d like not to admit that he’s either overly self-centered or bursting with an unrealistic (bloated) view of self. But he does think pretty well of himself. He’s happy to be Cole. So happy that, upon playing a “What Are You Thankful For?” game with the family, Cole wrote one word: Me.
From a Buddhist perspective, ego is a center of self, but it’s the false center, the one derived from others. True center is the one you’re born with — that’s the self. A kid is born without consciousness of self, and once born, the child because aware of the Other. The child is aware of his mother, how she holds him, smiles at him, and tells him, “You are precious to me.” And through that love and care, he feels good and important and valuable.
And then, through that interaction with the Other, he becomes increasingly aware of thatthingwecallself. He goes to school and learns that he’s not the center of the universe. Sometimes he fails. People don’t like him. Someone rolls her eyes. Another tells him that he’s not cool. Problem is, though, that’s not real awareness. It’s reflected. It’s born of a million different interactions with Other. It’s a complex, growing, tangled thing that’s shaped by how the world reacts to us. Ego changes. The reflected center grows and shifts and mutates until it’s a great hulking thing that we believe is … us.
Now is it possible that I’ve
bolstered inflated Cole’s view of self? You bet it is. I lavish praise on the kid. I may have, on occasion, given him a line from The Help: You is kind. You is smart. You is important.
I’ve gotten better, though. I have. I didn’t realize that I might be doing him a disservice with the over-the-top ERMERGERD YOU’RE SO GREAT until sometime last year. And now, I’m careful to praise him for hard work, rather than intelligence; for kind action, rather than sweetness; for a job well done, rather than innate ability. And I’m honest. When he asks, “Am I the best bike rider you’ve ever seen?” I give it to him gently, but I give it to him true.
He’s working out his identity. I’m working on ensuring that identity is solid and realistic about his strengths and weaknesses. Again with the balance.