Our little man is now two and a half and his vocabulary grows exponentially. My wife and I both make an effort to call things what they are and be specific and his little parrot mind locks all these new words away, categorizes them, and spits them back out correctly when we least expect. Colors, numbers, specific animal types, names, and actions are all rattling around in his little blonde head and looking for their moment to burst forth triumphantly. Even pronouns are finally getting through and he can differentiate “you” from “me”. Of course, we all know that means he’ll soon discover the dreaded declaration: “Mine!”.
We’ve had our own discoveries during this time, and most profound has been our uncovering of his unique personality. Others clamor to declare which of us he looks the most like, but we marvel at the ways he isn’t like either one of us. More specifically, I see in him a natural kindness and empathy that I didn’t teach or possess. This discovery brings with it a challenge: I must help foster this tendency in my son while not smothering it in my own cynicism.
This will be no easy task.
I’m the kind of guy who likes to be a peacemaker and I enjoy seeing the different sides of an issue. Hopefully, this informs my writing when I sit down to build characters out of nothing. My desire to see all sides brings with it a mostly even temperment lacking in huge sweeps of emotion. This emotional middle ground both anchors and infuriates my wife and causes me to look at those with extreme emotions and believe they are overreacting.
As a result of my emotional flat-line I’m great to have in an argument but not much fun to take drinking. Especially cause I’ll only have a coke. Thus, if there’s someone weeping I’m curious what could possibly be that horrible. If there’s someone cackling with laughter, I’d like to know what’s so unbelievably funny. I don’t want to sit and join in with the person, I’d like to find the root cause.
My son is quite the opposite… and I expect there will be many more times I will type those words in the coming years. If he sees another child crying his instinct is to comfort them.
Consider his beloved mini-blanket, Moo, (Yes… this is a fuzzy washcloth with a plush cow’s head on one corner. Yes… we named it Moo.). Moo goes everywhere with our little guy. From the crib, to the car, to the playground. Moo is the great comforter. We’ve got him on standby in a bag or pocket at all times. The world could crumble around his little feet, but with Moo in hand he’ll keep a stiff upper lip. Yet if there’s another child crying within his reach he will rush over to them and offer Moo to give them comfort. In fact, he’s been known to lay it at the base of the television if someone on a NickJR show gets sad.
Never was our difference more noticeable than on a recent hike. He was riding high on my shoulders in his backpack. A sudden obsession with trees had taken hold and after I leaned over so he could touch some bark we were now descending at a snail’s pace so more trees could be felt and their texture analyzed. Along the way I pointed out a small pine tree, about our height and dwarfed by the large trees all around. I figured he’d be fascinated by a tree our size. Instead he petted its needles and said “Oh, poor little tree. Where’s his mama? Misses his mama. Tree needs his mama.”
You could have put me at gunpoint and I still could have never thought, “hey, being the smallest tree in the forest has to get a bit lonely.” My son had to be talked down from that thought and convinced that this little pine was doing quite well and felt pretty good about his place in the forest. This was an odd hike.
I have no idea if he’ll keep his heart for others. I remember my early teen years found me in multi-hour brooding tantrums full of screaming and wailed tears, so obviously people change. But I hope he stays tuned to this frequency. I’ve come to expect everything to have a catch and every kindness to have an angle. His perspective shows me a new side of the world, and brings with it an innocent hope charred off of me long ago.
This leaves me in a quandary. There will be days ahead when I’ll think he’s overreacting or believe the person he wants to comfort should just pick themselves up and get over it. And if I do that enough I’ll make him cold and intellectual about the emotional world. I’ll shit on his empathy when I should be fertilizing.
Doesn’t help that I’ve got a black thumb and can kill any plant within a hundred yards.
I guess what I need to do is remember the little pine tree: the world is a big place and sometimes you just need your mama. I’ve already seen my wife step into my son’s emotions and validate his empathy. Thank God this is a team effort. She understands that sometimes what you really need is to curl up with Moo.