Some things are obvious.
Some are not.
Some things that are obvious to me are not so obvious to the kids. And vice versa. Such as -
I leave the room for 2 minutes to use the restroom. I keep the door open so that I can hear if anyone (read: Audrey) starts screaming for any reason (read: Sean tackling her). When I come back from the restroom, I see that flash cards are strewn everywhere in the living room.
me: What just happened in here?
Sean: We had a party!
Or just after their bath, Audrey is dressed in her pajamas and ready to read books. Sean is still running around the house naked doing the 'happy donkey' dance. He runs into the furniture, the walls, and then head-butts his sister. Audrey begins crying.
me: Sean! I want you to come over here and say you're sorry to Audrey.
Sean hides behind a chair. As if this makes him invisible to me.
me: Sean. I will only ask three times. I've already asked once. Now I will ask again. Please come over here and tell Audrey you're sorry.
Sean still hiding behind the chair.
me: Would you want someone to head-butt you?
me: Then please do not head-butt your sister. This is the last time I'm going to ask you. If I ask you a third time and you still say no, then you will go take a time-out.
me: Then you know what you need to do. Please come out from behind the chair and tell Audrey you're sorry.
By this time, Audrey has stopped crying so she can watch the exchange between me and Sean. She watches, tears in her eyes, as her naked brother comes out from behind the chair with his head down.
And then because it wasn't obvious to everyone:
me: Get your hands off your penis and then say sorry to your sister.
Sean: (eyes up, hands up) sorry Audrey.
Or this evening at dinner:
Audrey's water bottle is knocked off her tray by her hand as she reaches for some food. She looks over the side of her highchair tray and follows the path of her water bottle. She then looks up at the rest of us.
me: That's okay, Audrey. We can pick it back up.
Sean: (smiling and encouraging) You were really nice to Audrey, Mama.
me: HA! Am I not usually nice to Audrey?
me: What do I usually say?
Sean: You usually say, "Audrey, do not throw things off your tray. Things stay on the tray, Audrey!"
me: (laughing) Yes, that's true, but I usually say that when she's thrown something off on purpose. This time it was just an accident.
We were taking pictures the other night and Sean wanted to be behind the camera more than in front of it. He kept asking Tom if he could hold the camera and take the picture by himself. Many a funny image was born out of this exercise. Later I inquired about Sean's affinity for the camera.
me: Hey, Cito, you had some fun taking pictures today, didn't you?
Sean: Yeah. I did.
me: Do you think you want to be a photographer when you grow up?
Sean: (as if this was a silly question) No!
me: What do you think you want to be?
Sean: (straight out of a hallmark card) I want to be just like Dad when I grow up.
If we could have played the schmaltzy music, we would have. It was a touching moment and beautifully sweet. Looking up to his father, wanting to be just like him, wanting to emulate his intelligence, humor, silliness and integrity. Perhaps he was envisioning the life of an academic - being called Dr. and Professor. Educating the minds of young adults in universities everywhere.
Tom: Oh, Seancito. That is so sweet. Thank you.
me: What do you think Dad does everyday?
Sean: I'm not sure.
This morning Sean was throwing a fit about getting dressed on his own. He ran into the kitchen with only his underwear on, and I was losing my patience asking him to get dressed multiple times.
me: (he lodged his hands inside his underwear on either side of his hips) Sean, get your hands out of your pants and go get dressed. I will only ask you one more time and then -
Sean: (adamantly) These. Aren't! PANTS!
me: Take your hands out of your underwear, and go get dressed!
Yesterday I was asked - by Sean - to be present in the bathroom while he used the potty. Though I am encouraging him to use the potty on his own (trying to prepare him for being in school or otherwise), I acquiesced and came into the bathroom. Since I'm on autopilot with my marching orders for Sean, I went into my usual routine after he finished using the potty.
me: Okay, pull up your pants, flush the toilet, and then let's wash hands.
Sean: (looking up at me, wounded) You don't talk to people like that.
me: How do you talk to people?
Sean: (on the verge of a whine, trying to muster tears in his eyes) Using kind words!
Clearly, what was I thinking?
me: Sean, please pull up your pants, then please flush the toilet, and then please wash your hands. Is that better?
My own words come back to bite me! How often have I asked Sean to use "kind words" in the hopes of getting a "please" or "thank you" from him? How I have longed for him to understand what I believe to be obvious: we must use polite words when dealing with everyone. These kind words are a directive; these are things I hope become habit, I hope it's obvious that these words are ever-present in our day. So obvious that I forget to use them myself when dealing with Sean. And I especially forget to use them when I'm in a rush, or feeling frustrated, or feeling pushed to my limits.
This morning was one of those days where I felt pushed. From the beginning of the getting-dressed-routine, I tried to lay the groundwork for using kind words, working as team, listening and cooperating. These are all my usual (and perceived by me to be), obvious buzz words that I use with Sean and Audrey. It seemed like it was working until Sean refused to use the potty before we left the house: an agreement we'd struck with each other not 5 minutes before. Yet he became insistent that he not use the potty (though he was dancing around and holding his crotch, probably trying to "make the pee go back inside"!). I got so frustrated, asked him my usual 3 times to go on his own, and while still refusing he finally went to time-out. Then, he slammed his body against the baby gate so hard (the only barrier we have that will keep him in said-time-out-location) that he knocked it over. This angered me so much, he got demoted to a time-out spot by the front door, and then he melted down to screaming. It took us a while to come back from this estrangement.
Later in the car, I was trying to get us back on the same page. I was trying to revert to my more obvious, and I believe to be successful, ways of getting him to join me in what I'm doing.
me: Sean, are we going to have a good day today?
Sean: (fingering his lip, his usual 'thinking' pose) Yeah.
me: What are some things we could do that would make the day easier?
Sean: Saying 'ok' when you ask me to do something...
me: That's a good one.
Sean: Using kind words...
me: I like that one, too.
Sean: Not getting in Audrey's face...
me: Yes, yes, another good idea.
And then in a moment of inspiration, I derailed from my war-path. I thought, "I need to focus on something else instead of just hammering home these rules about the day. I need to focus on teaching Sean something about the world. Let's look at the trees which are starting to change. That will make all of us feel better."
me: Sean do you see the trees and the leaves? Do you see how some of them are changing colors?
I slowed the car down, and rolled up next to some trees with yellow and orange tips on the leaves. I explained that leaves begin changing colors in the fall, and that when winter comes most of the trees will be bare. Sean and I exchanged thoughts about why that happens, and then in the most crude fashion possible (my science teachers would be embarrassed) I explained why leaves die in the winter. We had a great conversation about how leaves will grow again in the spring, with the help of rain and water. Could this be a moment of light shining through the gray clouds of our day? Could we, like the leaves, be starting fresh? I will often remind Sean that he can always start his day fresh, no matter what time it is, no matter what's transpired, we can always start fresh. This moment exemplified that: starting fresh. They both seemed calm, focused and interested in the conversation.
me: So in the spring, we'll have to watch as the leaves grow back again.
Sean: Yeah! The leaves will grow out of the branches!
me: That's right! Isn't that amazing?
Sean: (matching the sound of wonder and awe in my voice) No.
Perhaps I found his negative statement to be too comedically timed, too bittersweet to end our moment of connection. Tempting the fate of every obvious, obtuse declarative statement ever made, I put myself out there again.
me: You don't think that's amazing?
Sean: (quietly shaking his head) No.