This is dedicated to a friend who called me “chipper” today….It really felt like today was going to crash and burn. I found myself getting sick again, or should I just say still, and I didn’t see how I was going to be dad to my little guy feeling the way I did. As if I had the magic cards of a sideshow clairvoyant; the challenges began to pile up post haste. Homework was done sloppy and incorrect, nothing was put away, everything I said went in one ear and out the other and all the while it seemed that I was being unreasonable and overly crabby. That’s when the “fat lady” rose from her chair and opened her mouth. Suffice it to say that a homework writing assignment managed to both devastate and infuriate me at the same time. Perhaps this is a sign of my age rapidly transforming me, but I sat in complete silence and really tried to think about why he would say these things and what I could do to actually make a difference. I didn’t want to just spew out another lecture or have him take a pass at guessing what answers he thought I wanted to hear.
I don’t remember actually planning or figuring it out but what followed was better than I could have hoped for and truly brought me peace and hope. I asked him if he remembered what he wrote, then why he wrote it, if he thought about what would happen and what people would think when they read it, etc. He was quiet and searching for the answers I wanted when I looked at him and said, “son, I am really asking you because I want to know and not because I am mad or because you are in trouble.” That’s when the tears came; just before the truth. My poor little guy was sad. Finally….sad? I can understand sad. Trust me!
I told him that it was perfectly OK to be sad. I get sad, I miss people, I worry about things, etc. but that doesn’t mean that I can act out or that I have the right to be disrespectful. I told him my own version of the “glass half empty” and introduced the idea of perspective to my son. I told him that we could say that the world is awful because our family is gone and they can’t be here or we can say that we love our family so much and had the best time over the last week, or year, or whatever. I explained to him that he has the power within himself to change anything and everything that he experiences. That when we allow ourselves to think that everything is awful we begin to BELIEVE everything is awful and we stop caring about how we look or how well we do our homework or how respectful we are and we end up with messy rooms, dirty clothes, and buried in lectures and punishments.
I had him tell me what he was afraid of, what he worried about, what he liked and what he wanted. I had him tell me what things he thought he has that other kids he knew don’t have or wish they could have. He cried, he hugged me, he told me he loves me, and he told me he wants to be different. I told him that no matter what happened he and I would always be together and he would never be without me. That we will think about all the awesome amazing times we do have and not worry about me ever having to leave for work.
As if the heavens parted and a rainbow appeared, his homework was redone and the table was cleared. While he was redoing some homework I wrote the reply letter to his assignment and it read in part: ”When I first read this I was really sad until we talked about it and then I realized how proud I am of you for being so strong and so brave.” I tucked my boy into bed nearly an hour after his bedtime and caught myself once again; forget about the hour, I told myself, and I grabbed my guitar and played a special song while I sung him to sleep. He smiled, kissed me, and rolled over to sleep. Just before I walked out he called to me and asked, “Dad, did you really mean what you wrote? About me being brave?”
I’ll be the first to tell you how many mistakes I have made and I wouldn’t put myself anywhere near the same state as the parent of the year, BUT, tonight…..tonight I think I did something right. I love my kids more and more with every passing second and I miss the ones I can’t be with. I guess I am “chipper,” because that empty glass I often stare at seems to have more water and less empty tonight.