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June 2011– Now that I have my own kids, some of the stuff that made no sense to me when I was growing up has become clear. I fully grasp why certain behaviors evoked a response from my dad. He and I might have different approaches in dealing with similar kid situations: my dad would have been quick and efficient, no fanciness or equivocation. Nevertheless, it makes sense now.
For example, when I was a kid, I liked to read more than I liked to do almost anything else. Reading ranked a close second with playing outside. For sure it ranked high above “work” or “chores” or “listening to Dad explain something maybe related to chores.” Occasionally when I was engrossed in a story, my dad would emerge from his office and decide that something needed explaining. I would get up from where I had been lying on the couch, fix my eyes on him, and let the book dangle at my side, careful to have my finger at the right page. Then suddenly, inexplicably, in the middle of what he was saying, my dad would grab the book, send it sailing across the room, and say, “You need to get your nose out of that book.” I’d be flabbergasted. Why, my nose wasn’t in the book. Hadn’t it, along with my eyes, been pointed at him? Hadn’t I been nodding in all the right places?
Now I get it. A child’s physical orientation toward a parent does not necessarily mean that her brain is similarly focused. Whether the child was playing a game on the computer, or reading just before a parent’s speech, tiny cues help the parent understand that listening to you is really the last thing she wants to be occupied with at this moment. In fact, what she is longing to do more than anything is rip her eyes off you and get back into what she was doing.
And even if the child doesn’t feel that what you are saying is important, you do–because otherwise, why would you be stopping your day’s work to say it? And the child’s eyes flicking back to the screen while you are on your third point (has she heard anything you’ve fervently explained so far?) begins to seem a little bit like disrespect. Logically, then, it’s time to power down the computer, though maybe not by leaping up and snapping it off with a terse admonition. On second thought, perhaps I should try that. Maybe it would be more effective than long-winded homilies appealing to biblical family structure, logic, and history (“Yes, I know you’ve done your Saturday chores, but what if you lived in the 1800s and had to work in a factory for twelve hours a day? Twelve hours. Those kids didn’t even get Saturdays off. And you’re slouching your shoulders because I’m asking you to take a break from your weekend privilege and clean out the cat’s water dish.”)
Touching walls was another behavior that, when I was growing up, made everything screech to a halt until it was dealt with. I’d be walking down our long hallway, content, absent-mindedly trailing my fingers along the cool yellow wall. Perhaps I was thinking about the next book I was going to pick up. Anyway, I remember my dad stopping me and impressing upon me that I should never, never touch walls. Just leave them alone. I assimilated this and kept my hands to myself, at the same time thinking, what’s the big deal?
Ah, now I see. Walls and glass seem to have a magnetic attraction for my girls. It’s not unusual to look up from fixing a meal or whatever and catch a daughter with both hands planted on the sliding glass door. Our windowpanes have more than once captured a perfect imprint of a small foot (over the old couch where the kids do somersaults). In spots, there are incredibly dark and smudgy walls that used to be white. Once I drove around with a car window totally smeared. My dad had twice the number of kids–I can’t imagine the environmental impact we made, or could have made, if he hadn’t been so proactive.
What has come to make sense to you, now that you see through the lens of a parent? It would be fun to hear.Published in