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  • Jolene Roehlkepartain

What Is Your Place?

I knew my 4-year-old son would admire the English adventurer John Smith in the movie Pocahontas, but I was wrong. As soon as the movie ended, my son wanted lip gloss.

“Paint my face. I’m Chief Powhatan,” my son said proudly, crossing his arms over his chest like Pocahontas’ father, the chief of the tribe. “And you’re Pocahontas. Give me the lip gloss.”

I gripped the lip gloss tightly, not wanting my face covered in a red stickiness. After hesitating, I reluctantly handed him the lip gloss, bent down, closed my eyes, and waited.

Instead, my son took my right arm and began to draw an arm bracelet above my elbow. When he finished, he put both of his hands on my shoulders and said, “Pocahontas, you are the daughter of the chief. It is time to take your place among our people.”

Although my son was mimicking the movie, the words struck me. What was my place? Yes, I was a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a neighbor, a writer. But what was my place?

As the question stirred within me, I thought about Pocahontas studying the rapids around the river bend, and her father advising her to choose the smoothest course on the proud, strong river. I then realized that part of the power of Pocahontas is Chief Powhatan being a sensitive father who brought out the best in his strong daughter.

Too often I believe my job as a parent is to model the perfect way to grow up, since I supposedly have the wisdom of years to prevent my son from messing up. But my job is much more complicated than that.

I need to be strong and weak, sensitive and tough, proud and humble. I need to know when to hold on and when to let go, when to teach and when to learn.

It’s a delicate balance—one that Chief Powhatan models well.

So the next time my son wants to decorate me with lip gloss, I’ll focus on the time of play instead of the long list of household chores. And when he tells me it’s time to take my place among our people, I’ll be reminded that children often speak with wisdom beyond their years.

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