Every so often, my son steps out of his first-person-singular mindset and talks like the Lorax. Except instead of speaking for the trees, he speaks for kids.
Here are nine things he’s said recently that I wrote down because they came across less like a singular child’s overt demands and more like advice to be heeded:
“Kids need more playtime outside and less time sitting inside.”
There’s plenty of research out there, not to mention countless successful models from around the world, to support this statement. Also, it’s kind of a no-brainer and personally very frustrating for me that “grown-ups” have somehow lost sight of a child’s biological need for regular, whole body movement.
Hell, I need regular, whole body movement if I expect my brain to function well. And the kinetic realities of children are even more involuntary and insistent than mine.
So yes, buddy, you’re right. Thank you for that reminder. Let’s block some weekends off on the calendar for our family fort-building project, make a bunch of camping reservations, and figure out which ninja-parkour and outdoor adventure camps are worth signing up for.
“Sometimes when you say, ‘It’s okay,’ it’s not okay.”
Ah, shoot, do I do that? I do. Damn. It’s a weird habit I picked up from your grandmother when I was a kid. I promise to try really hard to curb that deeply ingrained, reflexive placation from my vocabulary.
“Psychology Today” underscores the importance of “validating the feelings of your children.” This is another one we could probably figure out on our own if we took a moment to recall what it’s like when a co-worker or friend or spouse (or parent) denies the importance of how we feel.
Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein writes, “the best discipline you can give your child is having the self-discipline to be patient, empathetic, and loving – especially when he or she is not acting lovable.”
You should hang out with my kid, Dr. Bernstein.
“When kids get frustrated or sad, just wait a bit. We’ll get over it.”
This one is related to my son’s last observation, and reveals an unfortunate tendency of mine to want to make things better a.s.a.p.
It’s hard to stay neutral when your child hurls a pencil across the house because he can’t figure out a word problem. When he climbs in the car at the end of a long school day visibly fighting back tears, my first instinct is to extract every last detail about what went down and which punk, or punks, were responsible and whether they’ve gotten picked up yet, because I am going to show those scrappy little imps what for!
My son has the face of an elfin prince, but he’s not a toddler anymore. He’s practically 10. That’s double digits, folks. With the occasional reminder to stick up for himself and shout “Back off!” if need be, I think he can hold his own in the halls of the local elementary school.
“Can we drop it, please? I like my schedule how it is.”
“Okay, I hear you. But piano lessons could be so fun! And so good for your brain! And they wouldn’t complicate your schedule. They’re in the same building as your afterschool activities, so you could just cruise on over to the music room and hang out with Neal for a while.”
“Alright. No big deal. No piano lessons this year.” (But if you play “Heart and Soul” one more time on Nana’s piano, I’m going to sever each individual string with an X-Acto knife.)
“We have to be patient with you. You should be patient with us.”
Touché, little man.
Yes, we adults have lots of important, pressing, deadline-oriented things going on in our lives. In case you haven’t noticed lately, kids do, too. The difference is that the kid things don’t register as important, pressing, or deadline-oriented for adults.
We want them to get ready for bed when it’s bedtime, not get lost in the miniature menagerie of expandable foam animals they’ve just created on the edge of the tub. When this nine-year-old was four, he replied to my increasingly urgent requests to “Please focus on brushing now” with this matter-of-fact remark: “I will. As soon as the zookeeper has fed all the animals.”
While I do what I can to not be suckered by my children, I’ve learned to respect where they’re coming from and to figure out how to engage with them in a way that doesn’t discount the things they care about.
“Kids do important stuff. It’s annoying when you don’t see it that way.”
This one takes that last point one step further. Not only is it “annoying” to be condescended to, it is also detrimental to the health of any relationship.
We know our kids are whole people. We want more than anything to encourage and foster their autonomy. So why would we jeopardize their self-esteem by undermining how capable they are or how legitimate their actions can be in the world? Meaningful life experiences are just that – whether you’re nine or 39.
That’s why I try to honor the “important stuff” my kids do now, even if it’s making a mistake or a huge mess or fighting over whose Darth Vader voice is the right one. Because nothing kills a child’s intrinsic self-worth like an indifferent parent.
“You don’t have to cheer for us every time. But don’t ignore us either.”
Alright, cut me a little slack here, kid. You don’t get what it means to be a parent.
When you stick those front flips on the trampoline, it’s a serious thrill for me. It is a vision to behold – my talented child twirling through the air, defying the very laws of gravity. You won’t appreciate this, but at one time, you could barely control your oversized wobbly baby-head. That is one dramatic life arc for the person who created you to witness.
That said, I’ve read some things, and know I need to take it down a notch. So the next time you make a beautiful play on the soccer field to the delight of the Saturday-morning, coffee-slugging mom-crowd in attendance (“Who taught him how to handle a ball that way? He’s a natural!”), I’ll do what I can to temper the joy bubbling up in my chest, cop my best Jane Austen character impression, and clap civilly from the sidelines.
“Give us more time.”
Having been a full-time working mom for the first eight years of my son’s life, this one is a doozy. Just thinking of the time I wasn’t able to give him in those early years makes my heart hurt. I refuse to tally the hours. It makes me regret the otherwise valuable things – namely making money – that I needed to do for my family.
So lately, as I float in this curious career window of relative flexibility, I’ve been slowing down, easing up, and letting go of all the things that will always be there to do even after I’ve actually done them. I no longer look at weekends as blocks of hours to fill with activities. Instead, we hold the days open for whatever might come to mind. We sit around after breakfast and watch the robins in the yard. We wonder about stuff.
Last week during spring break, my son and I took what we call “a down day.” Instead of shipping him off to another camp full of bus rides and improv kid karaoke and line tag in the gym, he stayed at home with me. We set up a desk out on the front porch in the sun. I wrote, he drew, and we took breaks to play catch.
After a long stint of side-by-side work-play, I looked over at what he was up to. He had drawn a picture of two cartoon characters of his own devising. Above them and all the little hash marks indicating their action, he had written, in stylized bubble letters, “Captain Hamster and The Shyness of Shy Guy.”
Clearly, the shyness of shy guy needs a down day every now and then. So does Captain Hamster.
“Make fart balloons so when people sit down, they make fart noises.”
This one is, perhaps, the most self-evident. It’s also the most staged. I wanted nine golden morsels of nine-year-old wisdom, and I only had eight. So the other day, I asked for one more. He got mildly irritated by being put on the spot, and then he said that. Word for word.
Prompted or not, it’s pretty damn near perfect as far as advice from a kid (who is as well-mannered as he is willing to imitate our old dog doing “the humpies”) goes. Also, I find it strange that grown-ups forget how awesome this kind of impulse can be, and how side-splittingly hilarious.
My kids have worn through their fair share of Whoopee Cushions in their time. In fact, some of our most precious memories are punctuated by the loud, flubbery blurt of an unsuspecting innocent sitting heavily on a loaded fart cannon.
Well played, son. Now, where did you stash the balloons?