There are definitely phases to raising children. We had 4 kids in round one, all pretty close together. Their age proximity meant that we experienced about 8 straight years of toddlerhood, then moved on to preschool for about the same amount of time. We never really had to go back to any previous phases because of “late arrivals.” Until Tobey.
In the spirit of brutal honesty, I did not handle the abrupt return to dealing with a preschooler very successful. The transition was compounded by the fact that he was somewhat developmentally delayed; he looked like a 4 year old, but behaved more like a 2 year old. I remember very vividly being so frustrated as this tiny human directly challenged my authority to tell him to put away his toys or, heaven forbid, eat with a fork! My mood, or the circumstances of the moment, often drove my response, as opposed to a rational and emotionally sound understanding of his difficulties.
While I’m happy with the progress I’ve made in responding in a more appropriate manner, I got an ugly slap in the face while I was on the road this week. I saw a family traveling through the airport and got to witness another father treat his own son, about Tobey’s age, in the same way I did more often than I’d like to admit. The boy was doing what little kids often do… experiencing and engaging with his world in a fully immersive way. He was jumping from one colored carpet square to another instead of walking in a straight line like any normal, sane person would do. His dad, on the other hand, was a man on a mission. Get to the baggage claim as directly and quickly as possible. Never mind the fact that they would almost certainly beat the bags and then be forced to wait, standing still, for what would seem like an eternity to both of them.
Dad had a choice, as I did so often. Slow down and experience the world with his son, or try to drag him back into the reality of their “urgent” task at hand. You can guess what he did. Grabbing his son by the arm, he yanked and pulled. As the boy resisted, he pulled harder. Watching the interaction and the boy’s struggles, it literally broke my heart. How many times have I placed my artificially elevated priorities above engaging with Tobey in the moment, then used my size and strength to prove that I was more important? The aching in my heart for that little boy told me it was much more often than I’d want to admit.
I wanted so much to stop the father and tell him to take a deep breath and engage. I wanted to tell him to hold his son’s hand less tightly… and hold his heart more tenderly. I wanted to tell him… to tell me… that the luggage would wait, and that somewhere, deep inside, his son would remember this interaction much longer than the father.
But I did none of that. I held my tongue as the man dragged his struggling son through the airport. And I cried inside as I saw myself in his place, knowing that, even today, my capacity for failure is so great. God forgive me.