when you cut off a conversation with good advice

Monday, June 24, 2013

Playground Rings by cryptic_starThis weekend I had a moment to connect with my son, and I blew it.

On Saturdays, John, a little boy about my oldest's age, shows up on our street.  It seems that he spends the day with his grandfather, who lives a few houses down.  My oldest son is completely enamored with him.  For eight hours every Saturday they ride up and down the street, calling "dude!" back and forth, listening for the ice cream truck, and pretending to blow things up.  The rest of the week, my oldest son talks about how cool his best friend John is.  On Saturdays, he eats and dresses quickly.  By 8 a.m. he is outside, waiting for his buddy to show up in his front yard.  As a mother, the whole thing is terribly endearing.

But for about eight hours every Saturday, his younger brother is the odd man out.  And there's nothing cute about that.

"John is mean to me!  I don't like him!!" he yells toward the open screen door.  Tears are streaming down his little cheeks.  It is late afternoon, and he has been irritable and destructive for hours.  I decide to load everyone up and take them to the playground, hoping a little novelty will help.  But it only takes a few minutes for my second son to lose his cool again.  "I hate him!  He told my brother my secret and now they are laughing at me!!"  He stomps his foot and throws his new toy car down, hard.  Three is obviously a crowd.  I do what mothers do - reprimand the outburst, cajole the older two, instruct them all to be nice.  The older two boys are unfazed by my five-year-old's tantrums and my mom-advice, and run away together to play something else.  My son sits down beside me, miserable.

Later, after John has gone back home for the week and the children are getting ready for bed, my little boy climbs onto the couch and leans against my arm.  "Mom, I am jealous of John." His voice is barely above a whisper.

"It is hard to have one friend and two brothers," I said.  Then, after thinking a minute, I ask him, "Do you want to be John's friend, or your brother's?"

"My brother's!  John is stupid.  I want my brother to play with me again."

Right here? Is where I blew it.

"Honey," I said, "friends come and go.  Your brother likes to play with John, but he will never have another brother like you.  Friends will come and go, but you two will be brothers forever."

Nonplussed, he climbed off the couch to brush his teeth.  Instantly I regretted my words.

I had a chance to let him be a whole person, and not just fit into my image of him, and I missed it.  All day I had assumed he wanted to be John's friend, and was competing with his brother - and losing.  When all along, he wanted his best friend to talk to him again.  I had misinterpreted the whole day, and in that moment when his little mind and heart were open to setting me straight, I didn't hear him.  He was showing me who he is and what he loves.  In response I had just patted him on the head.  I was thinking like a mom, acting as though kid problems aren't real problems, and kid emotions aren't real emotions.  He was telling me who he is, while I was focused on bedtime.  Shame on me.

I want to see my children as real, whole people.  With real feelings and experiences, limited as they may be.  I want them to talk to me at 15 and 25 and 35.  To build that kind of relationship, though, I have to take them seriously at 5, too.

What I wish I had said was this: "I'm so proud of you.  Most people spend whole years yelling at screen doors and crying on the playground and they don't know why.  One of the hardest things in the world is understanding how we feel or what we really want.  This is the first time your brother has chosen someone else over you.  I know that hurts, and I'm sorry."

I blew it this time.  But children naturally want to connect with their parents.  They are so quick to forgive us, to give us another chance to know them.  If I pay attention, another moment to really hear my son will present itself.  And hopefully, hopefully, I will recognize it for what it is.  I hope that next time I will be able to see outside of my schedule, my interpretation of the day, my standing image of my children.  Next time, I hope I can see outside of myself, and see the whole little person leaning against my arm.


  1. Wow, it is seriously impressive that your five-year-old is able to even articulate that he is jealous. And on top of that, the fact that he is willing to self-disclose to you an emotion that isn't always seen as favorable. Huge. I definitely wouldn't beat yourself up over what you said, and instead celebrate that you are raising a child that at five years old can articulate his emotions - even jealously. And a boy, no less!
    Don't miss your gold star because it didn't look "perfect" - because it is truly remarkable. And his mama (and papa) have done some pretty impressive parenting to make that happen.

    Cindy (in case the comment thing puts up a bunch of numbers)

    p.s. it switched your font back, but the page looks awesome!

  2. I don't think you blew it. Just so you know.

    Haydn has been learning to articulate his feelings this way, at 11. It amazes me.



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