Photo: A four year-old’s job is to try everything everyday. He wants to be everywhere, do everything, and become a part of this world. This is a beautiful thing, but it a life that is fraught with challenges, boundaries and consequences. For him and for me.
Major decided to run into the library parking lot yesterday afternoon. I didn’t even know he was in the street until the Prius driving by came to a dead halt and didn’t move.
I was taking Minor out of the car at the time. I’d instructed Major to stand on the sidewalk and wait while I took his brother out of the car. He didn’t follow the direction, actually, wandering toward the park behind the library (our destination). I called to him saying, “don’t wander far because I have to put sunscreen on you!”
Next thing I know, there is a car screeching behind me and my kid skipping up to me like it wasn’t a big deal.
“[Major]! What are you doing in the street?”
“I don’t know,” he shrugged.
I immediately put both of the boys back in the car. “We have to go home,” I decided then and there. “We have to go home right now.”
Major was pissed, of course. He didn’t even get to step foot on the playground. Minor was just confused, swept up in the punishment when he didn’t commit the crime.
I lectured the whole way home: he could have been hit by a car, he needs to follow directions, he should never be in the street, he knows better than that…
and he huffed and dodged and sighed the way the children do. The only things he knew at that moment were that he wasn’t at the park and that he was mad.
For the rest of the afternoon, he tried to punish me for my punishment. He refused to eat lunch. He stomped around the house. He wouldn’t come when I called. Finally I got fed up and threw them both in bed for a nap. I told him that I refused to feel bad because he made a poor and dangerous choice. I told him that I can’t make his choices for him, he must be responsible for his choices.
It’s a hard lesson for us both and one that we’re struggling with.
I learned that Major isn’t as grown as I think he is. We’ve been having a lot of problems with his impulse control anyway, but I have been chalking that up to end-of-summer wiggles. He sees, he wants, he does… without thought. Without understanding of consequence. This is probably developmentally appropriate for a four-year-old but, then again, I know he knows better than to be in an active parking lot like that. I’m having a hard time believing that Major can’t follow simple instructions like “stand here and don’t move.” But that’s my fault. I should have known that, even for the minute it takes me to get his brother out of the car, I have to have Major within arm’s length of me or else he’ll go in some direction without even looking or thinking about it. That, though, makes outings with both boys that much more difficult, because I can’t trust him and I have to wrestle both children in parking lots when it would be nice if I only had to think about one.
For Major, it’s difficult to learn that his world has hard and fast boundaries. To run up against them will result in a very swift penalty. His anger in this context means absolutely nothing. His job is to listen, to learn, to fix, and I have no patience for his “punishment” in this circumstance. So I gave him not an inch. I wasn’t cruel, but I was as close as I could be. When it came to his action and his subsequent reaction, I gave him absolutely no quarter. It wasn’t until after the nap, several hours of quiet for the both of us, that he was able to come to me and give me a meek “I’m sorry.”
But it was enough and it was important.
Parenting, especially when it comes to the first child, seems to be a constant seeking of the intersection of my adult expectations and his childhood actualities. Because everything that he does is new and different, I find myself feeling either utterly amazed or devastatingly disappointed. Rarely is there an in-between. This, though, is the first time when we faced down a dangerous consequence for our misunderstandings. You get so many mixed messages at this stage: I’m supposed to give him room to explore, honor his discoveries and his abilities to navigate the world, allow him the freedom to fail, respect his ability to make his own choices…
and then he does exactly what I’ve taught him he should never do. So we’re back to hand-holding and keeping it close and sharp instruction until I can feel confident enough to try again. Hopefully I’ll get it right this time.
We did find our way back to each other. He rolled roti with me last night, watching me carefully and then following my instructions. He had fun using the roller, learning how to use it as a tool instead of a toy. I appreciate my son because he forgives me. I appreciate him more because he forces me to forgive while he reminds me to adapt. I have to meet him where he is. I can pull him along with my expectations but, eventually, I have to meet him where he is. It’s a lot of pressure for the both of us. I remember, being a first-born myself. We both have to rise to the roles we’ve been given.
In the meantime, he’s still here, unhurt. Thank God. I got lucky yesterday and I know it.
How were you lucky this week, Dear Reader? Where have you been called to improve and grow in your life? I hope that you are rising to your challenges, Dear Reader, the spontaneous and the anticipated.
On this Friday, cool and gray, right before a long weekend, I wish you time to meditate and learn something new. I love the Fall because it’s that last gasp before the deep hibernation of winter. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to learn a new skill or start a new project to carry you through? I wish you a crisp, clean and locally grown apple, a symphony for your tastebuds and a welcome sign of the harvest season to come. I wish you peppers and onions grilled and piled on the meat of your choice, and a time to retell your adventures about this incredible summer with friends. I wish you a little bit of sleep, because the regular routine is here again and we all need it. I wish you a hug and a kiss from someone who loves you, unconditionally and without falter. You are worthy of it for more reasons than you could possibly know.
Until Monday, Dear Reader, take care.