Kindness: An Old Poem

A friend with a toddler posted on Facebook today that her son has started to hit really hard. She is seeking advice. I’m sure she’ll get a lot.

My once-upon-a-time-hitting toddler is almost 23 years old. She’s still got anger insider her, frustration at life’s injustices, passion for fairness, for art, for music, against privilege like her own. The overflowing of feeling that needs to escape the body. I’ve written many poems about her over the years, but I’d like to post one of the first ones, today, as a way of offering some advice for my friend baffled by her little boy.

I wrote this 21 years ago, and must have submitted it somewhere — I found it in a manila folder with my name and address typed on the bottom.  Now I think: not good enough to get published anywhere, not going to revise and resend, okay to blog. Okay to share the pain and confusion and not worry that the expression isn’t art, not this way.

The only thing I have changed since 1994 is my daughter’s name to “she” in the first line. The rhythm is better with her name, but that’s my problem.


She doesn’t know kindness.
She hits and tugs, pinches,
and her little fists are strong.
She comes home from day care with little notes:
“Today we practiced patting the babies
and just touching them gently.”
Her hitting doesn’t worry me (not like
table manners, you should hear this child
burp!) but it does hurt my feelings—
sometimes so suddenly that I have to take a breath
to keep from bursting into tears.
And sometime I cry anyway,
the abruptness of the feeling has no other
avenue.  And then there are the heavy moments
at the end of our day when, weary with each other, with
constantly looking at her, listening to her,
touching her, I walk by where she plays on the floor,
brush my fingers across her hair,
and she turns on me, bursts into tears, calling out
“papa, papa,” as if she needs to be rescued from me—
she loves him more. She is like the cat
who lies in your lap purring and purring,
and then without warning
snarls, hisses and digs her claws
into your thighs.
This learning to put kindness over love, over
exhaustion, over anger and hunger and even
over ecstasy, this is a hard human lesson,
little girl.

Jennifer Swanton Brown
October 20, 1994



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