It is my personal belief that the secret to being a highly evolved, successful person is the ability to self-reflect. The better able you are to step outside of yourself and analyze your own behavior in given situations, the better able you are to improve your own outcomes, whether they be social, romantic, or professional.
Until recently, I had ASSUMED there were only two levels to this phenomenon: those who CAN self-reflect, and those who CANNOT. However, last night my son showed me a third category: those who treat their own faults like a hurricane; you know it’s coming, and it’s going to be bad…but there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.
In our house, dinner has become such an issue recently that we had to do away with dessert as a concept. Before, Leo would not eat anything on his plate, then engage in an infuriating negotiation over how many bites of which items he needed to take in order to get a popsicle, or whatever. Now, he still doesn’t eat anything on his plate…but at least there are no tantrums after the “meal.”
Every once in a while, the specter of an after-dinner treat enters the house though, and all the old habits resurface.
Last night, I brought home some unpopped popcorn, and there was talk of maybe making some. However, in order for that to happen, Leo was going to have to eat some of the main course first. He came up with some fascinating dodges, including:
- It was too hot
- He was “too scared”
- He was a turtle
And pretty soon it was time for bed.
Too late, Leo ran to his plate and ate some food, hoping the popcorn plan could be rescued. He was very sad to learn it couldn’t, but also very surprised to discover that the meal he had been cowering from was one he actually loved. This was the exchange that followed:
LEO: Daddy…I really LIKE this!
ME: Great! Next time we have it then, just EAT some of it, and we won’t have to have this trouble.
LEO: But Daddy…what if I forget that I like it?
ME: That’s okay. I’ll just REMIND you that you DO.
LEO: But Daddy…what if I don’t BELIEVE you?
ME: Uh…don’t do that!
LEO: I’ll try…
Leo went to bed soon after, and I was left with the certainty that I was raising a son who would one day turn into a very thoughtful and considerate young man…or a paranoid schizophrenic. Only time will tell…
While discussing one religion-based controversy or another, a wise uncle once explained faith to me like this:
"Let’s say there’s a chair standing in between us. Now, you could state categorically that the chair is, in fact, on the ground. You could show me reports from a thousand experts who agree that the chair is on the ground, and show scientific evidence to corroborate your claim.
"But after all that, I could simply say ‘All this is well and good, but I BELIEVE that the chair is floating in the air.’ and while that might not alter any of your evidence, it most definitely renders the DEBATE pointless."
To me, this perfectly encapsulates most of the world’s religious-based issues, and shows the incredible danger of certainty.
It also helps explain why so many four-year-olds end up sounding like zealots at some point in their lives.
The other day, while I was driving Leo home from school, we were discussing his baby sister’s recent stay in the hospital, and it got him started thinking about illness in general. This was the exchange that followed:
LEO: Daddy…did you know that you can get sick, even after you’re dead?
LEO: YES, Daddy.
ME: I’m not sure about that, Buddy. Who told you that?
LEO: No one TOLD me. I just KNOW it.
Now, like any good thinker interested in increasing my knowledge base, I grilled him on the symptoms of Corpse Disease. He informed me (this is not a joke) that it causes dead people to “not be able to move,” and “to be very cold.”
Friends…I think we have a new epidemic on our hands…
I believe very strongly that one of the most important traits parents can and should instill in their children is empathy. Everyone comes out of the womb completely selfish as a survival mechanism, yet in order to function in society, we all have GOT to learn to care about other people, even as we look out for ourselves.
In Leo’s case, I recently got him his very own pet fish so he can begin to understand what it takes to take care of something (or someone) else, we often talk about situations where it’s necessary to think “about the family” instead of just one person (to varying degrees of success), and when a slip up occurs, we do our best to turn it into a teachable moment (for all of us).
Oh, and a few weeks ago, I brought Leo into his school to find the kids all abuzz (no pun intended) about a bug on the ceiling of their classroom, and instead of killing it, I captured it and put it outside, rendering me something close to a GOD to those kids for nearly ten whole minutes.
All of this has so far allowed Leo to become a young man who truly seems to care about those around him. PERHAPS to a fault…
The other day, my wife captured a fly in a cup that had been terrorizing her around the house for a week. She made preparations to get it outside, but it ACCIDENTALLY died during the transition.
Leo was INCONSOLABLE after this happened, crying hysterically for reasons we could not understand. This was the exchange that followed:
ME: Why are you crying, buddy?
LEO (Wailing): I’m sad for the fly’s Mommy and Daddy!
JILL: I’m sorry, Leo. It was an accident!
LEO: Daddy…I’m so glad that you let bugs go free without killing them.
ME: Well…I try, anyway.
LEO: Yeah…I’m just so sad that Mommy DOESN’T do that!
JILL: (Looks at me helplessly)
ME: I’m sad too. (To Jill, under my breath) Monster.
SOMEHOW, Leo got over this trauma, and has forgiven his mother. IT MIGHT be because I explained to him that family dynamics differ amongst different species, and flies are not the most domesticated creatures. On the other hand, it might ALSO have something to do with the new Jet Ski that Jill bought Leo the very next day…
When I was a boy of about four, my seat at the dinner table faced the window to the street. I remember that I like to imagine (for whatever reason) that a huge pack of cowboys were riding past that window on horses, and whenever that image hit my head, I used to make my mother say “The Indians are coming! The Indians are coming!” (This was in the days before political correctness, mind you…)
At the time, I was just happy that my mother played along, even if she didn’t “see” what I saw. As an adult and parent, I now realize what must have been going through her head each and every time: “What the FUCK is this kid TALKING about?”
EARLY this morning, my baby daughter woke up with some severe wheezing, and so my wife took her into the hospital as a precaution (update: she’s on oxygen, and doing fine.) I expected that Leo would wake up with MANY questions about their absence, but it didn’t even phase him in the least. Finally, after he’d been awake about an hour, I initiated the following exchange:
ME: Leo…Aren’t you wondering where Mommy and Sally are today?
ME: But you haven’t seen them today, have you?
LEO: No…but I just thought that Mommy was invisible, and Sally was still sleeping in her crib.
Of course, I wanted to tell him what was going on in full, but at that very moment, we were distracted by the arrival of a huge pack of cowboys riding past on horses. So instead, we sat down criss-cross applesauce and watched them.
From the very first moment that our kids start asking questions…there are certain questions that all parents start dreading. We ALL know that we’re going to get sideswiped by “Where do babies come from?” and “Why do people die?” at some point, and as much as you rehearse what you might say, you’re never fully prepared, no matter how many times it comes up.
I have prided myself on never backing away from these questions when Leo asks them…yet my desire to widen his musical tastes recently led to one that I was simply unable to tackle.
As I have pointed out before, Leo and I sometimes fight music battles in the car. He gloms onto one or two songs in a kids album, and insists on listening to them all the time (I know, he’s the only kid in the world who does this). To combat this, I have started introducing my bands to him, and luckily, he likes them enough that he calls them “our” favorite bands, and requests for “his” songs now refer to some of my favorites too. Talk about a win-win, right?
My favorite band for a very long time has been Carbon Leaf, a Celtic-infused rock band from Virginia that combines beautiful melodies with really smart lyrics and tight harmonies. I have seen them play St. Patrick’s Day festivals complete with mosh pits, an intimate college show that I took Leo to when he was all of 2, and many other venues in between.
Last year, CL released an album of VERY Celtic-inspired songs called Ghost Dragon Attacks Castle. At first, I could use the title of the album to get Leo to listen to it, but now, just about all of his favorite songs are on there, so he requests them by name.
His current number one is called The Fox and the Hare. It’s a very cute, lighthearted song in which a man announces to all other men in the world the lengths he would go to in order to protect his woman from their advances, including fighting zombies, taming lions, and…other things, as you’ll learn from this series of questions Leo presented me with yesterday:
LEO: Daddy…why is he talking about a fox and a hare?
ME: Because..what would a fox do if he saw a rabbit?
LEO: Chase and eat it.
ME: That’s right! So the man is saying ‘If you come near my wife, I’m going to chase you away like a fox chases a rabbit!’
LEO: Oh! Why does he talk about zombies?
ME: Because zombies are scary…but he would fight them anyway, to keep his wife safe.
LEO: Oh. Daddy…what are Nazis?
ME: Uh…just some mean guys, I guess. Let’s play another song!
Confidential to Carbon Leaf: Guys, I certainly understand WHY you threw that word in there. I mean, it fits the theme of the song, they are mostly boogiemen at this point, and the word does KIND OF rhyme with Zombies and all…but couldn’t you have anticipated that my four-year-old would have questions about this? Hows about you release a song that deals with the incredible sacrifice that men and women everywhere had to make to rid the world of the Nazis?
Oh right…you did. Well played.
The words “What,” “Do,” “You” and “Say” are all very common, and by the time we become adults, we’ve probably uttered each of them millions of times. However, once you become parents, those four words combine into a phrase that you will find yourself saying so much that you might as well print a sign.
Because we spend so very much time instilling good manners into our children, it might explain why it’s so especially aggravating when they call us out for even the slightest breach in etiquette.
The other morning, Leo and I were in the car together. I committed the incredible faux pas of letting my mind wander onto the road instead of his every utterance, and this was the exchange that followed:
ME (Snapping to attention): What, Buddy?
LEO (Annoyed): I SAID “Achoo.”
ME: Oh. Sorry. ‘Bless you.’
LEO (More Annoyed): DADDY!!
ME (Slightly exasperated): What??
LEO (Annoyed): I said it TWICE.
This little paragon of good form went on from there to enjoy a day in which he called a woman “old,” a man “bald,” and wondered aloud why a room in friend’s house smelled “disgusting.” There aren’t enough “What do you say?”s in the world to get you out of that…
As geeks everywhere (and apparently 99.9% of everyone on Tumblr) know, fandom is a serious thing, and people DO NOT take kindly to anyone who gets details wrong. A while ago, I NEARLY lost my mind when my son, in his simple naivete, combined Spider-man with Magneto, and I vowed that the next time such an unforgivable faux pas occurred, there would be hell to pay.
That second slip up occurred this week…and like a true geek, Leo called me out on it INSTANTLY.
I sometimes play up Leo’s outfit for the day, in the hopes that he’ll put it on more quickly. On this day, he was lucky enough to have this awesome Marvel superheroes shirt:
As we were getting it on him, we had the following mortifying exchange:
ME: What an awesome shirt, buddy!
ME: I saw the Batman shirt in your dresser, but I said to myself, ‘No. Today is an Avengers kind of day.’
LEO (Forcefully): DADDY…this is NOT the Avengers.
LEO: Spider-man is NOT in the Avengers, Daddy. And Wolverine isn’t EITHER!
ME: Can…can we not tell anyone about this, please?
Thankfully for me, he was gracious enough to keep my secret, and my geek cred is safe. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s almost time for his hot rock massage…
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how Leo, as a four-year-old, doesn’t yet live in a world where he perceives the possibility that people wouldn’t like him. On that day, I was thunderstruck how depressing it can be to have to re-experience the heartbreak that mean people can cause, through the lens of your children.
Today, I am awed by a different component of that trait: pure, balls-to-the-wall arrogance.
At a recent birthday party, I became friendly with the father of one of Leo’s female classmates, and as we parted ways, we exchanged contact information, along with a mutual promise to get our families together soon.
Yesterday, I picked Leo up from school, and was IMMEDIATELY confronted by this young woman thusly:
LEO’S FRIEND: Are we going to plan some playdates?
ME: Uh…yeah! I talked with your dad, and we definitely ARE going to do that.
LEO’S FRIEND: Well WHEN?
LEO’S FRIEND: Talk to my dad THIS FRIDAY!
She let me go after that, certainly thinking that she had effectively bullied me into giving her what she wanted. The joke was on her though, since her sincere desire to hang out my son was so charming to me, I would have agreed to just about anything.
When Leo and I were alone once more, I needed to comment on what had just happened, and we had the following brief exchange:
ME: Wow, Leo…she really likes you, huh?
LEO (Without missing a beat): Oh yeah…she LOVES me!
If Leo ends up being even a fraction like his father as he grows up, then he is in for a solid half-decade of poring over every female’s gesture and syllable like they were tea leaves portending the slightest scrap of affection.
Since that’s in his future…I think I’ll just let him enjoy this one today.