This week, due to the craziness of spring sports season, I had the opportunity to eat dinner with my five year old. Just the two of us. For a lovely sit down dinner. No chicken fingers or hot dogs on the fly, a real dinner.
We sat out on the patio, on a lovely spring evening and had stunning dinner conversation. “Mom, my favorite part of your dinner is asparagus.” “Mom, would you like to hear my collection of fart noises” “Mom, am I made of meat?”
And here’s what I learned…
I really like my kids. Come on, you know that’s not a given. When you’re a parent of young children, it’s not always easy to like your children. They are often miserable, mewling, horrible creatures. Little beings that make you want to cry, or pull your hair out, or wonder why you ever had them to begin with.
But sometime, after weaning, and potty training, and learning to tie their shoes, they became little people. Little people who you actually have something in common with. Little people who are a little bit like you in a lot of ways. Little people who you might choose to hang out with.
My eight year old is bright, and inquisitive and a bit of a know it all. He loves learning new things and can spend hours reading about greek mythology or human anatomy. He’s also moody, and whiny, and has a nasty temper when you push him too hard. He doesn’t like it when he’s not right, and when he’s not in control (a bit like his mom). He’s a rule follower, and can always be trusted to do the right thing. And he loves being the role model. Does it drive me crazy that he’s convinced that no one could possibly care for his brother as well as he does? Absolutely! Might it be better if he could communicate without moaning? Sure thing! But, we can spend hours talking about politics, or science, or music and he can hold his own. And, he has an incredible imagination with a rich skill in storytelling. He brings out my competitive nature, and we love to play games, or race, or challenge each other. And, he’s not afraid to tell me when I’m not being fair or just, and he’ll tell me how to fix it.
My five year old is a slow burn. He’s reserved and shy when you first meet him, but he’s worth the effort. He’s one of the most thoughtful people I know. He remembers to ask how your day was, or check on how you’re feeling if you have a boo boo. And he’s funny. Way funnier than a five year old should be. He retains things that will make people laugh, and has expert timing and a deadpan delivery. He’s silly and he loves to laugh. Yet, he has a hard time believing in himself and realizing how incredible he is, and he doesn’t take complements very well. And, it would be great if he could get through a movie, any movie, without sobbing in the sensitive parts. But his sensitivity is his strength, he understands people and pays close attention to how the social world works. And, he’s always willing to go along with the flow, and I can always count on him to help me make dinner and sing and dance with me as we cook.
The boys are a perfect pair. X’s ying to J’s yang. I’d be lying if I told you that it didn’t bother me how easily they fall into their roles. How J’s flexibility fits perfectly with X’s rigidity. How X always seems to get his way, and how J always seems to follow along. But they worship each other. I can’t help to feel jealous sometimes when they run upstairs and leave me out of their plans. But when they let you in, you’re welcome into their own little world that’s created just for them (complete with backstories, strange lands, and theme songs).
They’re really fascinating little creatures. Watching them grow and change has been an amazing adventure. There’s things I wish I had control of. But, one thing I’ve learned for sure is that there’s a whole lot of nature in that nurture. X will likely hold my hand when I bring him to college, J will likely walk the wrong way at his high school graduation. But, I love them for it and more so than that, I truly like them for it.
Parenting is often a responsibility with diminishing returns. The more you put in, the less you seem to get out of the deal. The hours spent at cooking, cleaning, transporting, molding, mentoring, disciplining, coddling and cajoling often feels like an endless black hole of human need. It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, the moment when it all pays off. But it does, and it doesn’t come with any fanfare or fireworks. It comes in moments of silence as you eat asparagus in the back yard, or when that growing hand reaches over to hold yours as you walk home, or that ever fleeting moment when that little voice says, “I love you.” And you know that you’ve made it through, if only for a moment.