It was a difficult morning. Breakfast was slow, preschool was imminent. My son, 3, kept turning around on his chair at the table. It's a good chair, if you sit in it normally. If you don't, it can tip over and crack a preschool head or, at the very least, break a finger or two. I explained this to him. I asked him, "Please, Jack, turn around, sit down and eat your breakfast." I asked him four times. The fifth time, I yelled. I went from, "Please," to "TURN AROUND IN YOUR CHAIR" in a finger snap.
He cried. He doesn't hear a lot of raised voices in our house. I felt like a real meanie.
Once the tears were wiped and he was sitting properly and I could gather myself enough to talk again, I tried to explain. "I just don't want you to get hurt, honey." He sniffed and ate his waffle.
I know -- I do -- that I can't protect my son from life's every tippy chair (not even close) but I can save him from some bumps and catastrophes, if he would... just... listen to me.
But that's the rub. Kids don't listen. Not every time. Not now and not when they're 16. Things will break. Noses. Fingers. Hearts. So how can I help him understand, help him make the right decisions when it really counts? So that he holds my hand when he runs down the cement stairs? So that he doesn't drive 75 on snowy roads the day after he gets his license?
I put his coat on to go to preschool. "Hold your hands back, honey," I said as I hooked the zipper. He didn't. My timing was bad, up went the zipper and I caught a finger. More tears and mommy guilt. I kissed his cheeks, the tears and his fingertip.
"We're having a rough morning, mommy," he said, sitting on my lap.
"It's not so bad -- it's only a scratch," I said, meaning it. I wish for a lifetime of only scratches.
There's that quote from Elizabeth Stone, the one about choosing to have children: "It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body."
It's that and immensely more. It's your heart, walking ahead of you on the highway in Frogger. You don't have the joystick. All you have is your voice and your good example. "Listen to me," you say. And sometimes they won't.