I’m dating my children.
But not in a creepy, Woody Allen-y way.
It occurred to me that although most of the time I feel like Mother Hubbard, with kids falling out of my shoes, I am, somehow, not hearing any of them.
I mean, I hear them speaking — one long uninterrupted sentence, chock full of immediate needs, food complaints, fears of white vans, songs about bunnies, potty jokes, treat scavenging, “your mama” jokes, contagious giggling and technology wish lists. But it’s cumbersome, and the sentences bleed together. It’s hard to pull one voice out of the mix.
So, we’ve started dating.
This is not a time I’ve planned for etiquette training (but, God-willing, there will be time for that too).
We don’t visit establishments with fabric napkins or multiple forks.
Our dates celebrate the little indulgences that are sometimes tossed aside when you travel in a pack.
An entire basket of hot fries that you don’t have to protect with your extra hand from a grabby sibling.
A malt flavor of your choice … and the leftovers in the tin.
A handful of quarters for the bouncy ball machine.
A corner booth.
Little, but important details that tell them they are worth the extra splurge.
In fact, I connect more with my kiddo in one hour at Leo’s Malt Shop than an entire month of regular routine management.
In the beginning, I may be hoping our conversation will cover lessons of honesty. Or respect. Or even the elusive, brotherly-love. Hygiene? What can I say, I don’t get a lot of one-on-one time. I’m hoping to cover the basics:
Open doors for others.
Your sleeve is not a Kleenex.
Brains before brawn.
But our conversation inevitably meanders to more important topics: tree frog hibernation cycles, alternative fuel sources and astronaut ice cream flavor choices. We talk about Main Street and pioneers and somehow end up in a game of Truth or Dare with a ketchup flavored malt.
The mind of a 9-year-old boy is not quiet.
Or even deliberate.
His ideas pour out of him without direction, and when I try to trace the logic, I sometimes feel like I’m standing in an open field after the flood waters have soaked back into the ground. I can see a giant oak tree lying washed up on its side, littered with fragments of plastic grocery bags and wrinkled photographs which no longer have a drawer to be tucked back into.
There are big important pieces of life that he doesn’t quite have rooted steady yet, and he knows that some of the details are important and belong in his story. Some ideas are just the plastic bags that are ever-blowing by parking lots and football fields, and always empty inside. But even if the details are hard to prioritize, it still feels good to have someone listen to your version.
It’s hard for me to just listen.
I’m always interrupting, trying to lead the conversation.
But I have learned that most of the magic happens in the pauses.
In the quiet buffer of space that protects this indulgent hour.
I’m sure there are pots and pans being dropped.
Babies crying and tables full of teammates laughing.
But at our own little table there is nothing to distract me from his face.
From the constellation of freckles that cross his cheeks and dance across the bridge of his nose.
From the length of his lashes when he is looking down his straw.
I am a devoted audience, for just one hour.
To his stories.
His perpetually dirty fingernails.
I rarely feel like I have adequate advice to share after the malt cups are emptied. Except maybe, ketchup is meant for fries, not ice cream. And, yes, girls (even moms) can be good friends. The best, actually.
I’m dating my children.