“The first duty of love is to listen.” Paul Tillich
This week while we were visiting your grandparents, I took you shopping at a consignment store.
As we walked into the store, something didn’t feel quite right to me. It might have been the fluorescent lights, the rushing people, or the haphazard boxes in the corner. I saw your eyes glaze over in the way that you and I both do when we’re overwhelmed.
Still, you liked looking at some of the toys and I held out hope of finding a good deal on winter coats, so we stayed for awhile.
Then you spotted it: a rickety, rusty, old red bike that wasn’t your size. And you wanted it oh so badly. You hung all your hopes and dreams on this truly crappy old thing that must have been beautiful to you. It took you just seconds to imagine yourself racing around the neighborhood.
When I said, no, I saw your bottom lip start to shake and your body slump. I could tell, because I know you well, that this was no time to push forward with our shopping. I scooped you up, we waved goodbye to the bike, and headed to the car.
Once we were buckled in, your grandma drove and we talked about the bike. I tried to explain with endless amounts of words and reasons, why this wasn’t the bike for you. How would we get it on the airplane? I was being so logical and hoped you would think so too.
I want a red bike, your voice quivered. Over and over, no matter what I said.
I started to tense up in the way I sometimes do when I can’t fix things for you.
My jaw clenched tight as though I could squeeze hard enough to hold back the hurt for both of us. I was uncomfortable and I had conflicting voices running through my head about how I should handle this.
Empathize and move on, one voice said.
He needs to be grateful for the tricycle he already has, said another.
And the worst enemy of all parents, the voice of self-criticism said: you’re not handling this well and he will be damaged.
All of these voices took my focus away from you.
Then something kind of miraculous happened. I stopped listening to the voices and just noticed them. I also noticed the discomfort in my body and that’s when things started to shift and I was able to really hear you.
You really loved that red bike, I said. You paused and looked up with big eyes so I continued:
You were really hoping to bring it home. You must have been so disappointed when I said no. You nodded.
I don’t know when, but someday we’ll get you a bike. Would you like to tell me about the kind of bike you want and I’ll make a list so we don’t forget?
All of the sudden your body relaxed. You knew you were going to be heard. Instead of frantically repeating your requests while I talked over you, you were able to articulate your wants and set them free.
And just because it’s so adorable, here is the list:
1) I want a red bike.
2) I want it to be huge.
3) I want it to look like Abraham’s but he has a black seat so I want a red one.
4) I want training wheels in the back so it doesn’t tip over.
5) Actually I want training wheels in the front too so that I can go really fast without tipping over.
Oh my sweet, driven little boy. I’m really really glad that you know how to assert yourself boldly and be clear about what you want. These are skills I’m just now learning as an adult.
It doesn’t mean you’ll always get what you want, but it means you believe in your own worthiness enough to ask. Chances are, it means you’ll respect others when they ask for things too. That is my prayer anyways.
Keep asking my love, I promise I’m learning how to handle it!