Once upon a time, a little over a decade ago, my little sister and I used to sing together. We used to busk at street festivals and events as a sort of fun way to try and pick up cash; sometimes we did, sometimes we didn't. One of the things that people singing together do often is use their facial expressions to talk to each other while their mouths are otherwise occupied with making the right sounds some out. For example if you are singing with someone and it seems to you that they are flat, you might arch your eyebrow at them to make them think higher, you might smile when things work well, and out of a performing habit, and you might scowl if the other person is making mistakes. One fine summer afternoon next to a booth that was selling dresses made from old saris I noticed that my little sister seemed unusually surly. The short version is that she didn't want to sing with me anymore because I was always giving her The Look of Death, a phrase that we had just coined. My response was that she was the one giving me The Look of Death, I was just responding in kind. It turns out that the look of death is reserved for the moments that we each thought we were screwing up terribly and just wanted the other to know that we were aware of our mistake and not think we were a total idiot, not only singing out of turn, but not realizing it. Of course, to the other this looked like the anger was directed toward them, and not at the owner of The Look of Death. Then and there we decided that when we made a mistake, we would smile at the other, and perhaps raise an eyebrow at the same time. Suddenly it was a whole lot more fun to sing and work together, and people started commenting on how much fun it looked like we were having. Which shows you how often we were making mistakes.
It seems The Look of Death was not gone for good however, I noticed it the other day by it's absence when I was talking to the Boy. After a particularly difficult "teaching moment" aha, ahaha, I thought to myself how much I love this boy and smiled at him as I hugged him and we went back into our day. To my astonishment, it was like the sun came out, he capered, and grinned, and was delightful to be around for the rest of the day. Which led me to wonder if I really smile that rarely in settings like that. It seems The Look of Death, the oft inwardly directed scowl has been crossing my face without my knowledge. All of those moments when I feel that I am falling down on the job, when I realize that my failure to be prepared, to make learning certain things easier for my kids by my lack of discipline, all of those things that flood through me when I'm dealing with my children appear on my face. But my children think it's directed toward them.
So I have been diligent this week to smile, and perhaps arch an eyebrow at myself instead and I am amazed at the power of a smile. Just looking up and smiling when I respond to them seems to have the power to change an entire mood, more than words, and perhaps even more than time spent snuggling on the couch and reading. Smiling at my kids, whenever I talk to them, seems to make them happier on average than any other thing I can do. Who knew?
They read my face before they hear my words. When my face is clouded, they respond defensively, when it is open and fond, so are they. They are my little mirrors. The language of my body is teaching them more about how I feel about them than I want it to, and so I am consciously changing my body language so they will know they are loved and that I like them, even when I kind of don't because they are naughty, and it's genuinely affecting my attitude as well for the better.
So, I am bidding The Look of Death Farewell. I hope it never comes back.