There are times in our interactions where I am left with the conclusion that my son has absolutely no respect for me. Now, this is okay for two reasons. First of all: I only recently have any respect for myself. Second: He, as it turns out, IS a three year old. I was listening to NPR a while ago, during which the host discussed how at three we are technically the most naturally selfish we will ever be in our lifetime. He went on to speculate that there would be a lot more random murder in the world if three year olds were much stronger or not dependent on others for their survival. Now, I’ve given the nightmare visions of zombie apocalypse more table time then I’d care to divulge. Hordes of the undead walking the Earth devouring the living is a fictional concept that scares me to the bones. However, it is equally matched at the notion of a world on fire at the mercy of hungry, crabby three year olds that can’t seem to find the PERFECT shovel with which to dig.
Jack is three and he is, sometimes, an absolute jerk. I’m not talking about tantrums. Those are the things they tell you about. The things that make it into parenting books and Mommy Blogs. I’m talking about cold-hearted behavior with out the cold heart. I’m talking about being told, by your son, to “Go sit on the couch” so he can finish his puzzle with just Mommy. I’m talking about a child bursting into tears at the notion that you are giving him a bath tonight, and not the previously mentioned “Mommy”. Smacking the glasses clean off your face during a tired tantrum at Disneyland. Throwing a car, accidentally hitting you in the head with it and then laughing his ass off as you check to see if you’re forehead is bleeding. This is the stuff that I’m talking about. This is the havoc which my son has wrought.
Now, before I feel the need to get into a “but we’re good parents” defensive mode, I want to stress something: I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing a good portion of the time. Take that admission for what you will. I assure you it’s not naivete, it’s not ignorance. It’s a liberation and a celebration of my complete lack of control. Some of this comes as naturally as the raindrops. It’s react time and you are suddenly there. You’re in that moment you never thought you’d be in and you feel like you could conquer the world. The child is fed, happy, safe, warm and what seemed like a random insurmountable task has been accomplished and the universe smiles on your with a gold star. Go, you fantastic Dad, you. Then there are those other times. Pants seem like attempted murder. Any mention of potty is met with laughter and running. Dirt is meant for eating and urinal cakes are to be picked up and presented like a cat with a dead bird. I am not sure how many frustrating moments there are versus moments of happiness, joy and freedom. All I really know is that I never, ever question whether or not it’s worth it. God, it is SO worth it. I’d take a million days in a row of Jack setting small fires for me to extinguish for just one second of the look on his face when you know he’s just learned something. We ARE damn good parents.
See, here’s the funny thing about Jack’s selfishness: it’s not really selfishness. That is pretty much just my perception of it. Yes, as far as definitions go it is probably textbook. But I don’t fault a cloud for the falling rain. I don’t yell at a mountain for daring to have a cold, snowy peak. Who Jack is right now is a natural process, and I’m merely a sherpa here to guide him past some of the more rocky terrain. He cannot climb the mountain quicker than his feet will allow, nor would I want him to. Also, how could I get upset with him, when I 100% sympathize with where he’s coming from. I am, when left unchecked by the grace of a loving God, a horribly willfull example of selfishness and self-centeredness. So, when I see Jack start crying because he cannot have a cookie. I’m not bothered that he’s cramping my “cool Daddy style”. I’m not worried what the neighbors might think. I am quite grateful that I’ve grown far past the paranoia that came with new parenthood. I was always, so concerned, that everyone else was watching. Now, I could care less.
No, when Jack is exhibiting his self-will run riot mode, I’m eerily reminded of my own past behavior. I’m thrust back, for a moment, into an old form of thinking in which I expected to get what I wanted, when I wanted it. I see Jack in myself, rather than myself in Jack as I usually do. I look at him and I think “I get it.” That’s not what I tell him. What I tell Jack, when it seems like the world if falling apart from his eyes, is something very dear to me. A simple phrase once spoke to me. Those are usually the one’s that have the most power. When I was at one of my lowest points a few years ago I was given the gift of a simple phrase. As I sat in Rehab, at my most desperate, I gazed up at the moon. I heard a voice, not mine and no one else that was present. All it said was: “It’s gonna be okay.” I believed it, and my new life started. “It’s gonna be okay.” is what I tell Jack. It’s what I told my wife at one of our most tragic moments. It’s what I tell those who are equally as desperate as I once was. It’s what I say because it’s what I believe. Jack will, as he does, grow past this. His life will present him and us with a new series of challenges and gifts, as we grow into the future together.
In the meantime, I look at Jack as I look at that rain cloud or that mountaintop. They just are what they are, and don’t necessarily have to be a commentary on my own life. Jack is Jack. I am me.