Like all healthy kids, my son has made the transition from infant to toddler, and now to four year old child. No more toddling. Now it’s all about racing, running, crashing. Everything is fast, furious and exciting, only punctuated by a wipe-out, or a nap when he literally runs out of energy and makes a rapid transition from active to sleeping. It usually takes about a minute once he gives in.
Along with those changes comes wax in the ears. As the oldest child in my family, I remember hearing my parents routinely tell my sisters to “get the wax out of their ears.” More and more often I hear myself saying similar things to my son, especially when I have to stop him from whatever he’s doing and make him look at me as I say, “listen to me.” It seems about half the time I tell him this, it’s to stop him from doing something I know will lead to injury. I may not be the smartest guy around, but the wisdom of 47 years definitely trumps the zeal of four.
My son, again like all kids, gets the wax out, acknowledges what I said, and the all too often lets what I told him go in one ear and out the other--something else I remember hearing my parents say to my sisters and I. As all parents know, this comes with some measure of frustration as you strive to strike the balance between the strictest of enforcement and prudent liberty that follows the warning.
One of those acute moments of frustration happened the other evening. My son was all spun up and bed time was approaching. (By the way, I’m convinced “spun up” is a statement of middle-aged denial. It’s how we gently admit that we don’t have the strength or energy we used to have, especially when it’s obvious as we watch our kids.) I marshaled him into the bathroom to brush his teeth. The blur of motion and energy continued as he climbed onto the small stool in front of the sink. Then came the series of warnings: stand still or you’re going to fall off the stool and hurt yourself. Are you listening to me? Stand still. He responded with an “okay”, then continued to dance around. Mere seconds later one foot comes off the stool and Paul hits the side of the sink with his cheek as he unintentionally took an eight inch step down. Ouch. For Paul there was a stunned moment, then tears fueled by pain. And for me, frustration. I was torn between two simultaneous desires. I wanted to hold and comfort him, and ensure he was okay (which I did). I was also angry and wanted to scold him for doing the very thing I just told him not to do, for the reason he was now crying--injury and pain. (Which I also did after I was sure he wasn’t injured badly.) In those moments, I reminded myself that my job was to lovingly comfort and teach my son, and to reinforce what he chose to dismiss. Even though I was frustrated, it wasn’t lost on me that to a great extent this specific instance of the problem was self-correcting. I warned him he could get hurt and told him how to prevent it. He listened and applied that guidance with all the wisdom of a four year old and chose to dismiss what I said. His close encounter just seconds later with the sink and the resulting sore cheek made it clear what the consequence of not listening were. And although I was angry, I had the awesome role of holding and lovingly correcting my awesome son.
I would never wish pain on anyone, especially a child, but this life comes with pain. I think we need it for a variety of reasons. At times it provides contrast to pleasure and ends up enriching the good things we enjoy. At other times it reinforces the cost of unwise action. Even then though, I hope when pain comes, at worst it’s only a shadow and caution for the wounded of the worst things that could happen. One of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, wrote that “pain is God’s megaphone.” I think he was right. And at times like this one in the bathroom, although undesired, it clearly serves as dad’s megaphone. I never had to raise my voice; my son understood (at least for a little while) my caution to him was out of love.
The rules are the rules, parents must be obeyed, but some things just have to be learned through experience. Authority matters, but learning comes through words and deeds. The real world exists in the middle and in the fine tradition of parenting, we strive to set rules in a loving environment that are reasonable and enforceable. Paul needs to learn when we tell him something, we mean what we say. But we also need to let him grow through experience, often associated with the risks of scraped knees, bumps and bruises. Apparently this is especially true with boys. This frustration, and at times the associated fear...it’s real, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world!
It’s great to be a dad!