I made my little boy cry last night, and I am not proud of it.
It was a typical Thursday. We live in Annapolis and my daughter had Irish dance class in Columbia, which is about 40 minutes away. (Yes, for this particular style of dance, her experience level, and the coaching, the drive is worth it.) So – I was bringing her and another dancer home, when she announced that she was hungry. Understandable at 6 pm after an intense workout. I put my plans for reheating the leftover Mexican casserole on the back burner, so to speak.
We stopped at Chick Fil A. There was another passenger in the car: my 8-year old son. He’d been with us for the entire trip up to dance and back (as he often is) and I was fairly sure he was hungry too. So I fed everyone.
The other dancer’s mother picked her up and we headed home, but not before making yet one more stop to drop off some paperwork for my oldest child’s Boy Scout troop that was due before the coming weekend.
We got home at 7:45. I told my little guy that his dad would be late, and to get a shower. He obeyed me. Then I sat down with my oldest son (age 15, who himself had just arrived home from school and crew practice) to discuss his day while we ate the aforementioned casserole.
At 8:15 my youngest walked into the kitchen and propped his skinny arms up on the far side of the island. I turned around from the sink, hung up the towel, and faced him.
“Ok. So you’ve got 15 minutes before bed. Want to go read a bit before lights out?”
Surprise, bewilderment, and sadness crossed his face all at once.
“Aren’t we going to have dinner?”
I was taken aback.
“You ate at Chick Fil A. Are you still hungry?”
His eyes began to flood. He nodded slightly.
I handed him a banana from the fruit bowl on the counter between us.
“Oh, bud. Come sit down.”
We walked over to the table, and as he slid into a chair and opened his banana, his welling eyes spilled over and he began a full-on cry.
“What’s wrong?” I stammered. But even as I said it, I knew.
“Is it about having dinner? Or just being together…at dinner?”
“Being together,” he managed to say.
I was convicted in where I’d wronged him, and also deeply thankful that all the sacrifices my husband and I make to force as many family dinners a week as we can are paying off. Dinner is often late and preceded by many “appetizers” – plates of cheese and crackers or apples meant to “hold you over” until everyone is home and able to sit down. But our kids love to be together. We are bonding a family, and this little boy’s crying heart was proof.
I coaxed him into my lap, grateful that he’s still small enough to kind-of, almost, fit there, and snuggled with him.
We talked it through. I apologized for all the running around, for failing to explain the day’s turn of events better to him as they were happening, and for not paying closer attention to how he was feeling along the way. And I told him that being together was important to ALL of us.
As a down payment on my renewed promise to reconnect with him, I let him stay up an extra 15 minutes, and we read together. Actually, he read to me, which is what he wanted, and I tell you, after all that driving, it was sort of nice to lie on his carpet and hear a story about a brave mouse going on an adventure.
I’m reading a great book right now called Season of Life by Jeffrey Marx. Marx is a journalist who spends a year with football coach Joe Ehrmann, a former Baltimore Colt, and his team at Gilman High School. The book was published back in 2004, but the lessons for raising kids – especially boys – are timeless and perhaps more important today than ever. Ehrmann argues that our lives are to be other-centered rather than self-centered, and that we find purpose when we choose this path.
When we focus on building and sustaining meaningful relationships over success by any other measure, our lives are more fulfilling and we find the satisfaction that we crave. Empathy is the key. We must develop empathy for one another – the ability to be touched by the pain and plight of others.
I looked at my son and wanted him to know that he was understood. Known. Heard. And cared for.
All it took was a couple moments and a renewed commitment to pay attention to the things that he values. Time with his family. Hugs and laughter at dinner every night.
I could do that. Just BE with him.
And you can do it too.
There is someone you know who has a silent crying heart right now. And your empathy is the key to changing things just a tiny bit for him or her.
Will you stop your endless driving, and sit and listen today?