How does my son's little brain work, anyway? All the insecurity and shyness. Such trepidation and physical recoil when the prospect of approaching someone (friend, stranger) with a question, a conversation, a simple request.
Where in the world does that come from? Certainly not from me - the outspoken, rabble rousing, make-believin', shameless, "look at me" only child. Maybe from my husband - humble, thoughtful, full of introspection and wit. Or maybe...it comes from within him.
Because as it turns out yes, kids are born into gene pools and such, which of course carry their own weight and impact. But they are also their own beings, full of will and choice and personal experience. Fascinating, really, to think about how much influence and how little sway we actually have as parents.
Case in point with my son.
"I'm just shy."
"I just don't want to, okay??"
"No, mom! I'm not going to (ask the waitress for the crayons)!"
Face flush. Clearly frustrated. And to be frank, pissed off at the idea I'd ask him to embark on such a terrifying journey into the unknown where human beings express themselves and connect with words. I have so much trouble understanding the intensity of his resistance, my first (and most quickly regretted) reaction is to insist he face and beat the fear. That it's "not a big deal".
And are those fair words to use with a nine year old boy clearly unlike me in bold human connectedness, but so much my twin in other ways? Certainly not a proud example of me being impeccable with my word.
As parents though, isn't it our responsibility to guide and push our kids toward their own personal greatness? To point to exercises in self discovery and say, "Trust me, you're going to want to pay attention here and try just a little harder. I know it's uncomfortable and new, but the work you do now will hurl you forward - jet-pack style - into an even bolder and better you!"
Yes, but those eloquent words don't come out. And even if they did, they would be met with dramatic sighs and eye rolling, so we save the breath and try other approaches.
And clearly, I need to work on mine. Because it's unsafe and unfair to assume my son is going to handle life the same way I do. He is cautious and sensitive and even nervous at times. Limitlessly silly and unfiltered when he's with us, his family, but guarded and enclosed in the larger world.
(And it's worth noting, none of this is all the time, and yet often enough to warrant thought. Consideration.)
So where does this leave the two of us, with this little tug-of-war? Am I doing the "right things", or do I need to shift ninja-mom style and try something new?
I think the answer is not in black and white, but in the grey where so many others exist. But a few things are clear:
- It is imperative that I respect and honor my son, no matter what; that I shroud him with love and admiration both when we don't understand each other and when we're in lockstep rhythm.
- I need not only to listen to him, but to really hear who he is, what he needs, where he does and doesn't want to go. And to pay close attention, because some cues are loud, while others sit awkwardly inaudible, complex. Nuanced.
- It is important, above all, to be careful with my real-time feedback. The looks on my face, posture...and of course, my words.
The number one rule of improvisation is to say "Yes". I've mentioned before how invaluable this is both onstage and in life. And that applies here too, for my son. Maybe that is my lesson: Don't be afraid, sweet boy, to say "Yes". Embrace, confront, try, fail, jump, attempt life.
You are here now. And I'm here too, with you.
Let's do this thing.