During tennis lesson last week, I watched as our four year old clamored to gather balls his classmates had gotten to first. He grew increasingly upset, as one ball after another was swiped away from him. Meanwhile, there were more balls coming across the net from the pair who were practicing their backhand.
I called him over (though the coach takes offense to parental direction during class).
“Don’t look at the balls on the floor,” I whispered. I turned his head from the floor to the other side of the net. “Look for the next ball. No one is going after that one.”
His countenance brightened and he burst away, in pursuit of the new source.
We have a sequence of phrases I try to rehearse with him every now and then. The starter phrase is “I love you” because several years ago in one of our long car rides around the city, when I said “I love you,” he surprised me by responding with “I love you too.” Like a call and response in a religious service, we trade phrases in a sequence that remind us of what’s important.
The lesson from tennis class is the latest addition:
“We don’t look at balls on the floor.” (Me)
“We look for the next ball.” (Him)
I realize as we are tossing these lines back and forth I’m teaching him. As importantly, I’m reminding myself of those values I hold dear.
No matter what type of childhood you had, the odds are high that you also have a complaint about it. The stigma of trials are obvious. Yet my friends with well off parents also murmur that they too were at a disadvantage (too sheltered to be prepared for the disappointment of adulthood).
Becoming a parent is an interesting rhetorical move. Yes, you see glimpses of your parents and often not their best traits.
But also you get a chance to teach yourself as you’re teaching your child.
One afternoon I was home, the boys playing downstairs, and I threw myself on the bed in shuddering sobs. I crawled under the covers, like a tantrum spent toddler, and took a nap. I awoke refreshed. Not much else had changed but perhaps the most essential thing: my perspective.
Think what better people we could be if we saw everyone with the compassionate we give to children.