Posted by Bonita Jewel
My four-year-old son had been going through a whiny phase. I found it difficult to hear his words clearly, and frequently told him (probably less-than-patiently) that I could not understand a word he was saying unless he spoke more clearly. Without the high-pitch accompaniment of whines. After my reactions, he usually just stopped trying to say whatever he had been saying. So I would feel bad for shutting him down, and he probably felt worse for not being able to express whatever he wanted to say.
My mom was driving, and I sat in the passenger seat. The three kids all sat in the back seat. My son was talking aloud to himself, which he rarely does. He was going on and on in a very impassioned manner so I tuned in to hear what he might be saying.
“No one understands me!” He was exclaiming to himself, building up a whole case in his little sing-song voice. I tried to reassure him that as long as he spoke clearly, he would be understood. I left it at that, although his self-talk continued.
That weekend, my sister came for a visit with her teenage son. I entered the living room that evening and heard my son telling a story to his aunt and cousin. They were sitting captivated as he narrated the entire tale of how we traveled from India (a couple of months before), including details on the airplane ride, the things he saw, ate, experienced.
After he completed his tale, I told him it was time to get ready for bed. He turned to go, but then added a final line to his narrative: “I need to go now and that’s about all the information I have.”
My sister was laughing so hard she could barely breathe. My nephew commented, “He knows words I didn’t learn until sixth grade!”
The next day, my four-year-old told his plane traveling story to someone else, who also looked extremely impressed. He added a few details, cut out some other parts and had to double back when he forgot something, beginning the story once more from that point on. He breathlessly reached the end of the story with, “And that’s the end of my story of how we came from Bangalore to America.”
Another successful tale. Another impressed listener. My son was happy once more. And I stood in wonder at that outside glimpse. Seeing my child through someone else’s eyes. His amazing vocabulary. His gift of storytelling.
Often, without even realizing it, we put our children in a box, labeled neatly with our perceptions and our assumptions. My son: the whiny one. My son: the strong-willed one. My daughter: the complainer. The boss. The sensitive one. The spoiled one.
Sometimes we put ourselves in those boxes too. But when we’re in boxes and they’re in boxes, we can’t easily reach out and connect. Maybe it takes an outside glimpse. Maybe it takes an intentional stepping out from those labeled boxes. Perhaps a recognition of who they are and who we are beyond those labels. To help us see just how special and unique each one of us truly are.