This month all I need for a writing prompt is a list of the things I say to you every single day.
“Make her feel important.” I say this a hundred times a day in a dozen different scenarios. This idea involves recognizing with your attitudes and behaviors that you are not the only important person in any given equation. EVERYONE is important. In fact, this is another related line: “You are not the only important one.” This is so hard for you. But at least you understand the concept these days, and now all you need is the skill. Which you will probably not master until the day you die. You and everyone else.
“Talk to her in a respectful voice.” This is close cousin to “Make her feel important.” I refuse to let you guys talk to each other in a way that is less than polite. Respectfulness is how we treat everyone, not just the grown-ups who can make it matter. EVEN SIBLINGS. If we are going to live in the same house together for nearly two decades and like it then we are going to cultivate a lifestyle of saying things graciously.
“Please try Meredith’s idea.” This one happens when I hear you shouting down what Merry suggests or simply talking so much that she doesn’t have a chance. It’s because you are very bad at being a follower. This is raw material, and it is the raw material that great leaders are made of. It is also the raw material that sore losers and jerks are made of. I’d like you to grow up to be the former, not the latter, and that will require listening, and, again, recognizing that you are not the only important one. And sometimes when you actually do try her idea, you find out that she has GREAT ideas. Same goes in your classroom: your teacher tells us that you rarely join other kids’ play, though you’re always happy for them to join you.
“You are saying that because your heart is greedy.” I say this in response to any number of things, usually along the lines of “I feel like I never want to stop playing play-doh/watching TV/reading books/playing outside EVER.” Or “I wish that this day would never be done.” Or “I feel like I will NEVER love doing responswubilities.”
“You need to let go of that” is a close cousin here, and it involves those moments when you’re so fixated on one good that you can’t catch the vision for another one. Passing beauty, sweet boy. (This is something you will hear from me ten thousand times before I die, so I’ll save its full explanation for later.) It’s also my go-to for moments like when your Legos drop on the floor and break, and you reply “WHY IS THAAAAAAT?!?!?!?! I don’t want that to happen NEVER EVER!!!!” with this intense need for cosmic justice that you couldn’t possibly have inherited from me ahem. Let go of it.
“Are you being willing to let me be your leader?” This is the clearest way I’ve come up with to get at that elusive feeling of submission which delivers conflict-free results at moments like when I tell you to go play outside or to look at my eyes or to stop verbally flailing around for the aforementioned cosmic justice.
“Follow through with what you’re supposed to be doing.” See also “Did you get distracted?” and “Do you know what you’re supposed to do next?” This is what I say when you come upstairs naked because you forgot you were getting dressed, or when you come and play with Joshua before flushing the toilet, or when you’ve left the recycling box that you just picked up three feet from where you found it and are now headed down to put it in the garage without it actually in your hands.
“Did your pee actually come out?” This is an essential clarifying question these days because your perennial skittishness about the potty is having another flare-up and, combined with your profound laziness, leads to these moments where your idea of “Go potty” is stand there for one second and then zip up and get back to your Legos.” When we are about to leave for church and you haven’t peed since you woke up you can see why this would be an important clarification.
“Stop trying to control him/her/me with your voice/face.” This one is how we talk about your word choice or your tone or your pouty lip or your squinty stink-eyes. Pretty straightforward.
“You are smart. Don’t ask me, just trust yourself.” And this is what I say to you when I ask you to do something like push the pause button on the remote or the up button on the elevator. You freeze and then you ask anxiously “Is this the right one?” It’s like you think that pushing the wrong one will detonate us into oblivion. And like you are sure that you are certainly not capable of picking the right one. This isn’t just about buttons, either, but about a general lack of self-confidence that I am trying to massage away like a knot in a shoulder: You are smart. You ALWAYS know which button is right. Trust yourself. I want you to have that because it feels great.
“You may not say that. It is rebellious and disrespectful.” This is my response to your response when I say “You may not watch a movie” and you respond “You mean I can NEVER watch a movie EVER?!” No, I do not mean that. I did not say that. Do you want me to mean that?
“We are not going to have a conversation about this.” This is my favorite wild card for any number of moments when you think it makes sense to parlay instead of just letting me call the shots. It has to do with responswubilities, juice, sharing, and whether or not you should flush.
(I crack myself up.)
We met with your preschool teacher this week and had a delightful hour chatting about you. We love you and we think you’re awesome and we’re so proud of you. It was fun having a little meeting of the Jacob Fan Club, we three sitting around that mini table while you played obliviously. She told us who your favorite classmate is and how you two have the same way of playing. She told us that she overheard you count past 120 the other day while you were picking up toys, and how you were mad when she said she couldn’t listen any further at one particularly inconvenient time while you were counting. She told us how you recognize the “Ja” in January is the same as the “Ja” in Jacob and how you love the Bible stories and how you tear around the room with cars. You’re delightful, not only to us but to others.
And you are a pain in the ass. But still, we’re proud of you. I was telling Daddy last night as we went to bed that I think the best way to handle your current installment of crap (like saying “When you say that I feel like I will never love you” or like meeting my instructions with squinty eyes and a contest between your chin and your neck to see which one can thrust farther forward) is to just wait it out, thankful that you are, finally, able to articulate your own feelings and thoughts, and able to do it in a very straightforward and calm way. Yes, you say some pretty ridiculous stuff (like “You mean I NEVER get to do what I want!?) but at least you aren’t throwing actual fits. I like to think this is fruit of my careful modeling for you how to say what I need to say with self-control: “Jacob, I feel so mad at you right now because you tried to control your sister.” I think what we’re seeing is emotional health and growing wisdom. So I’m proud of you.
Speaking of wisdom, I’m loving being able to abbreviate a discipline battle by calmly suggesting “Jacob, wise people need instructions. Foolish people need spanks. Would you like to be wise or foolish right now?” And then you say “Wise.” And then sometimes you actually listen to the instructions I serve up, and I see real fruit of repentance in completely transformed attitudes or behaviors.
You and I memorized 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 together and it’s such a helpful reference. “Jacob, are you insisting on your own way?” “Jacob, when you treat Merry like that you are being irritable and resentful.” Your eyes light up and you’re proud of this little secret wisdom we’re in on together. And the cutest thing was on Sunday when it was the New Testament reading and you just about jumped out of your skin with delight upon recognizing it.
There are so many funny and crazy things I could tell you. So many moments when Daddy & I look at each other and one of us is staring the thought “YOUR SON” into the other’s eyes. (These are not usually proud moments.) So many amazing things you’ve said, like the snowy Sunday when you announced that you didn’t like the snow getting in your eyes so you wished it wouldn’t fall down from the sky. Hannah and I were just launching into a grown-up-speech about “How else would it snow?” when you continued your whiny reflection as only an engineer would: “…I just think it should bubble up from the ground.”
So many weird and cool moments like yesterday when you informed me that you were going to make the PBJ sandwiches for lunch or last week when I gave you a $5 bill and a two-item list and let you “do the shopping.” Or how fun it is to go for a run, with you on your bike as my pacer, racing down the paved trail that cuts through town with Merry & Joshua riding in the double jogger. Or how shockingly you’re defying (or validating?) my Unschool philosophy of early childhood by sounding out the words Sun and Sky for yourself in a library book this afternoon shortly after the lunch during which you demonstrated your mastery of basic single-digit addition: “4+3=7! NBD! I’m not even five yet! My brain is astonishing!”
But for some reason the one that I want to leave you with happened a couple weeks ago on a day when you and Merry were peacefully playing together all morning while I ignored you, until an explosive moment when I came down to the basement door upon hearing weeping (you), growling (Meredith), and scuffling (both of you), to find you holding onto her coat and not letting her go outside. You wanted her to wait for you and so you tried to control her body. I enjoyed the look of horrified concern on your face when I informed Meredith in your presence that if anyone is ever controlling her body and not listening to her saying “No” that it’s open season: she gets to do whatever she wants to that rat bastard. Even hitting. It was a weirdly hilarious moment I won’t soon forget because your face was like “Sh*t. This could be a problem.”
You drive me absolutely crazy and I love you to pieces.