Here it is another evening forty-five minutes before dinner, and my boys thunder down the stairs singing, “Mom, we’re hungry!” I remember my mother’s words growing up, “no snacking because you’ll ruin your dinner.” Of course, I echo that sentiment, and it rolls off the tongue so easily met with the best, “Mom, please?”
Should I give in? Does it even matter?
Over the years, I have watched my children as they take me back to lessons from my childhood.
Enjoy the simple things.
When I was a child, I remember loving anything that involved being outside. I would play for hours in the sandbox, building castles out of a single bucket. I remember riding my bike around the neighborhood for what seemed like thousands of miles. When forced indoors, I cannot remember more excitement than using a huge box that a gift came in, to create a fort, a cave, or a lemonade stand. My sister and I would play for hours using just our imaginations to create an entire afternoon of wonder and awe with those big boxes.
As I got older, those things faded from existence only to be replaced by a day to day life that moved faster and faster. The outdoors became less vital because I realized that I wasn’t as fond of sweating or getting my hands dirty. As life got in the way, I noticed that getting to places faster became more important than a bike ride through the neighborhood.
Fast forward to watching all three of my boys as children, and I am always amazed at how much they love the big boxes that their presents come in. Watching them use their imagination to create tunnels to the edge of the earth, or a castle complete with knights of the round table is, for me, like moving backward in time.
How can the box be more exciting than the present inside the box?
Answer: Kids intuitively see the value in everything because their minds are uncluttered and still flexible. They don’t just see what comes in the box, but they see endless possibilities in the box itself.
My kids show me every day that it’s not about what’s in the box so much as it’s what you make out of it. That is the lesson.
I made lots of mistakes as a child as we all did, but my mom and dad always had my back. They didn’t always approve of my choices or even like me very much, but I knew they still loved me. I think I temporarily forgot just how much they loved me around the time my younger sister was born. She became, what I thought, the center of their attention. I began to act out, using attention-seeking behavior. Most times, there were outcomes that I didn’t enjoy, which lead to consequences that I enjoyed even less!
Naturally, my kids are never happy with the consequences of their poor choices. I don’t like doling out harsh consequences either, especially in the present moment. But they always come back after the dust settles and tell me how much they love me, and they do so because they know, unequivocally, that I love them.
Anyone can have a child, but not just anyone can raise one.
I have had the pleasure of re-learning that the best love is unconditional love. I also learned that a mom has no favorites. It’s just whoever needs me at that moment, and I always tell the one in front of me; they are most definitely my favorite.
Never never never give up.
One day I noticed my youngest son despondent with failure. He wanted to beat his brother in a swimming race across the pool. Alas, his brother’s longer reach and lean, strong muscles just wouldn’t allow it. Nevertheless, he practiced every day until he got a little bit faster.
One day he decided to call his brother out for the final match race of the century! And speed and luck were with him that day because he beat his older brother by a finger-length at the wall.
Jubilation was the emotion of the day. He was so happy that he never gave up, but I also noticed an unusual reaction from his older brother who lost the race . . .
Sometimes it’s OK to let the other person win.
I noticed his big brother pulled up briefly at the end of the race, thus allowing his little brother to win. I remember being both shocked and proud all at the same time because he had never exhibited this kind of restraint before. He reminded me that sometimes it’s not about the outcome; it’s about helping someone else feel better about what they’re trying to achieve.
All of these lessons lead me back to one of the easiest of them all,
It’s not always about you and, sometimes, it’s OK to have dessert first.