It's been another one of those days which seems to be going by in a vaccuum, in some in-between realm that exists just outside of hectic reality. To start with, there were no doctor appointments, no errands, no need to set foot outside the house at all today. (I did still shower and get dressed, however. Go me.) But we've had a day of real familial harmony, too. (I know. I know! As soon as I say it...)
I like my kids. I don't just mean I love my kids, because obviously I do. And I'm undoubtedly a little biased, of course. But I really like my kids, and I'm pleased to near bliss to be able to say that. I remember when Joey was a newborn and I'd decided to not go back to work, I made a conscious decision that I would attempt to focus on the present, to really be there and enjoy each moment, so that I would never have anything missed to regret. And I don't, really. I've found something to love about every age they've gone through. (No, I'm no saint. I've found things about each age that drive me up the wall and/or frustrate the hell out of me, too.) But because I could love the age they were, I've spent (I speculate) less time wishing they'd stay little and less time wishing they'd hurry and outgrow this stage already. Which is not to say I never wish to go back and have never wished for them to outgrow something. Just, I hope, that I haven't wasted too much precious time on it. (There are days this week when I've wanted to grab Joey and hug him and beg him to go back to being a little boy for a while longer, pretty please?)
Somehow, somewhere along the way, I must have stumbled onto doing something the right way, because I'm really proud of these boys. And I've discovered that all the parenting advice I've ever found useful really boils down to one simple thing: communication. When my kids talk to me, I listen. OK, sometimes, I catch myself nodding off. Or sometimes I have to ask them to wait, because they'd be interrupting someone or something else. But as much as I can, I try to look them in the eye and really listen and ask intelligent, conversational questions about what they're saying. I try to know them, what their interests are and what they worry about and how they think. I share my thoughts and my interests, and we talk about things--music, song lyrics, historic events and people, whatever happens to strike us at the moment. It helps that we share a lot of the same interests, I'm sure. (Although I have to stretch a little to sit through the latest metal song I'm being asked to listen to, sometimes.) And when I have a problem with one of them, I pull out the ultimate parenting weapon.
I talk to them about it. Kindly, honestly, and with respect. Nine times out of ten?
They get it. They may not like it. They may not implement my suggestions for improvement perfectly or consistently. But more often than not, they're capable of understanding, and they attempt to understand, and they listen. Maybe it's because I listened?
I didn't fully understand that this is what I've been doing right until this morning and, once again, it was the boys themselves who taught me. Joey, as older brothers will do, has grown somewhat derisive of Michael's less mature behavior. (They're 2 1/2 years apart.) So when I happened to find myself alone in the kitchen with Joey while Michael showered, I said, "You know, Michael really looks up to you. When you make fun of him or say negative things to or about him, it hurts his feelings." Eyeroll and curled lip from Joey. "You're a role model to him. Maybe he doesn't say that to you, but your opinion matters to him. For instance, when we got back from having his toe operated on yesterday, he really wanted to tell you all about it. Later, he told me you didn't want to listen, and I could tell he was disappointed." Grudging shrug from Joey. "You know, if you give him some positive attention, then when you want to talk to him about changing something that bugs you, he might listen better. When you're a role model, you have a responsibility to treat people well and help them find the good things about themselves. Then maybe they can follow you and become role models themselves someday."
Five minutes later, Michael came out of the bathroom. His toe needs to be soaked twice a day. (Ingrown toenail removed. Bloody but evidently not painful, aside from the shots before the surgery.) So back we went into the bathroom to soak his toe.
Joey came in with us. He peered into the tub to look at Michael's toe and listened patiently while Michael showed him the holes from the shots and told him it was itchy. Then the three of us stood around in the bathroom for fifteen minutes and talked about a variety of inconsequential things. I went out to check the clock, and I heard Michael say something in a whisper to Joey. And I heard Joey say, "Michael! You know you shouldn't tell jokes like that. We'll be back to school soon." (Michael is in the "any swear word is inherently amusing" phase.) Under typical circumstances, Michael would have gotten mad at being told what to do. Instead?
"Oh, yeah. All right."
And that was it. I caught Joey alone later and gave him a thumbs up and told him I was proud of him and pointed out how well that had worked out. I also cautioned him it wouldn't always work, but don't give up. He gave me a co-conspiratorial grin and then tried to shrug it off as no big deal.
Then he started up a song on Rhapsody for me and asked, "Have you heard this song from Boston? I really like this one."
He's gonna make a pretty fine man someday, I think. And obviously, he shares his mother's good taste in music.