Monday, December 28, 2009

Photo Evidence

I am currently downloading 861 photos from my camera. These photos document the fun and frivolity of the last two weeks, from Santa to holiday parties to the sheer magic of Christmas morning.

What they fail to capture are those very mundane and occasionally challenging moments in between. Like the scene yesterday when Benjamin decided to throw Papa's glove out the door of the Estes Park Starbucks into the snow, not out of some attempt at silliness but out of an attempt to see how far he could push his beloved grandfather. In fact, the actual image doesn't even exist in my mind because it happened while I was ordering coffee for myself and Josh, so all I have is a fabricated, patchwork scene pieced together from the story my dad later told me--fuzzy, indefinite, surmised.

This picture, and dozens like it, do not grace the photo archives. They occur in the moments when the camera is tucked away--the everyday, ordinary, unexceptional moments that comprise a lifetime. But by and large, these are the moments that will define the boy, the man, the family, me. The sweet, pretty, photo-worthy moments are the frosting, the small reward for the hours of investment leading up to them. They represent the fruition of the faith and hope invested to that point. They are not the whole story, but they are the good story we hope is being woven from all the good and not-so-good scenes in between.

I learned of the Starbucks incident late last night after the kids were sound asleep in their beds. My heart sank a little, my picture of our lovely afternoon in the mountains smudged by this display of defiance and ill-will. I wasn't sure what I would do about it, but I knew it needed to be addressed. I need to know that when I leave Ben with another adult, I can trust him to make good decisions so that everyone involved can enjoy their time. Few things frustrate me as much as the times when I find myself anxious, uncertain of whether Ben will be delightful and sweet or snarky and uncooperative.

To be honest, it's times like this when I sometimes wish we spanked our kids. At least then the consequence would be clear, my course of action straight forward. I wouldn't have to think about it, I could just get it over with--swat, swat, swat--and move on. Sometimes I even think spanking would help me remain cool, calm, and collected in the face of their bad decisions, since I generally find myself teetering on the brink of anger when I don't know what to do--when I feel backed into a corner by my kids' misbehavior and uncertain of how to craft an effective consequence. But I think there are some kids for whom spanking, even when executed correctly, does far more damage than good, and Josh and I believe Benjamin is one of those children.

So I found myself last night and this morning spinning my wheels trying to determine how to address this issue. After thinking all night, still I had no answer. At some point mid-morning, I realized I was spending way too much of my own energy on this problem, thereby depriving Ben of all the thinking I was doing for him. Instead of continuing to stew, I changed the question and made it his problem: rather than ask What should I do about this? I asked What should Ben do about this? And then I posed the question to him.

The conversation started by addressing the incident and learning his perspective. He knew he was at fault and conceded guilt by immediately saying, "I told Papa not to tell you." Clever child. I asked him if he knew why throwing the glove outside was a bummer decision, and he acknowledged that it was not respectful to not listen to Papa. Then I told him he needed to decide how to make things right and let me know his plan by the time he went down for his nap.

There. The problem was out of my hands and into those of the person who created the problem in the first place. My job, then, was simply to wait, and empathize as needed.

By the time nap time arrived, I think it finally was dawning on Ben how much this decision at Starbucks was inconveniencing his life. Throughout the morning, he thought of things he could do, and they spanned the obvious to the ridiculous. At first he tried to tell me he would always listen to Papa and respect what he said. "Sounds great," I would reply, "but we expect that anyway." Then I reposed the question of how he would begin to mend the damage done to the relationship yesterday. This exchange occurred a couple more times throughout the morning, with him throwing out ideas that simply identified courteous and respectful behavior. The bonus of these exchanges is that I was able to simultaneously affirm our expectation and belief that he would treat people this way all the time while validating the importance of relationships. We treat people this way because we believe they are important, because we want them to know they are loved, because we desire to build trust, not break it. We don't get to treat people carelessly when we feel like it and then assume that we can make it right by treating them the way they deserve to be treated in the first place.

When we sat in his rocking chair to read books before his nap, I asked once more what he had decided. After having this conversation again and then grasping at straws ("I'll help Papa move my bunk bed"--a non-existent task), he grew frustrated and teary, demanding that I tell him what to do. "I don't know what you should do, Bug. That's what is hard about relationships. It's hard to know how to make things better when we've hurt someone. It's not easy to fix." We talked about how Papa might have felt when Ben threw his glove outside and whether Ben actually felt about Papa what his actions communicated. He thought about this as he wiped big tears from his cheeks with the back of his hand. I think he was beginning to realize the significance of his decision, the impact he had had on this man he loves--he was showing signs of feeling genuinely contrite for the way he treated Papa.

The conversation continued to weave in and out of the nuance of relationship and the problem of yesterday's decision and what to do to make it right. Eventually, Ben decided a good start would be to apologize to Papa for throwing his glove. I affirmed this idea, and after seeing his sincere attempt to find a path forward, I offered a suggestion: "Maybe you could make him a card telling him all the things you appreciate and like about him. That way he knows the way you treated him yesterday isn't how you feel about him." He liked that idea and added, "And I'll tell him I love him."

Yes, Baby, there it is. The heart of the matter. You love Papa, and that is why this is important.

As his breathing settled into a quieter rhythm, we reviewed his decision. "You'll see what I do," he told me as we snuggled in to pray. It took us so long to come to a conclusion, we didn't have time for books. He seemed both genuinely aware of the problem and at peace with his decision about how to address the conflict. He seems to desire true reconciliation this time, not just a quick fix. I think he's beginning to see and feel the consequence of his decision, both in terms of his relationship to Papa and in terms of his life. Choosing to hurt someone requires reconciliation, and working toward that affects everything else--play time, book time, Mommy time. Asking forgiveness isn't always easier than asking permission.

He's sleeping now. The late nights and busy days and rushes of excitement have taken their toll. Both kids are exhausted, though the memories are worth the price. We'll see what Ben says when he wakes up, when Papa arrives home this evening and the time comes for stepping into resolution. But I'm cautiously optimistic that this mistake has become a true learning opportunity.

And I'm hoping this conflict will mark a step in the journey of Ben's relationship with Papa, will propel them both toward a stronger, deeper, more honest relationship with each other. I think that is the role conflict should play: drawing people closer. In our frail and belligerent humanity, we are bound to fail each other, but in the tender exchanges of resolution, we have the opportunity to lean into each other, to bandage each other's hurts, to affirm our belief in each other's goodness and good will. And so while I wish this incident had never occurred, I'm hopeful that in the end I will be grateful for this opportunity for them to work through it and grow closer.

And one day, I hope to take a picture of the two of them in front of the Starbucks in Estes Park, their love and respect for each other evident in their closeness and familiarity--a snapshot made possible by the thousands of moments that went before.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love comments!

Blog Widget by LinkWithin