Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Privilege of Being the One They Ask

This afternoon, I watched Benjamin pace the floor of our friends' house on my iPhone. He looked and sounded so utterly proficient from the side of the conversation I could hear.

"I see," he'd say thoughtfully.

"So what I hear you saying is...," he'd respond, putting those active listening skills we've practiced to work.

Benjamin called my dad to gain insight into a problem his team is trying to solve for a tournament in a few weeks. As part of the solution to their challenge, they are creating a small, portable iPhone charger, and in the process, they've learned about energy conversion, generators, electromagnetic energy, and how to build their prototype. But fuzziness on a few of the basic science formulas was stalling their precise calculations.

It dawned on us that Papa sells generators and might be a good resource for their remaining questions, so Benjamin decided to call him after school during the team's meeting today.

There were so many things I loved about this exchange:

My dad's willingness to make time for Benjamin's questions and to patiently lead this third grader through basic physics.

Benjamin's utter ease in talking with Papa on the phone. There is history, relationship there that makes the exchange comfortable.

Watching my little boy grow up. He carries himself so maturely sometimes. He looked out the window, listening carefully, occasionally nodding, and I could envision him twenty years from now making a call from his own office.

I stood there, spirit gushing with affection for Ben, heart overflowing with knowledge of my dad's love for both of us.

I wished I could squeeze my son to pieces. As I write, I realize I need to tell Benjamin how much I admired his poise on the phone, how much I respect the young man he's becoming.

I also wished I could give my dad a hug for being so present. And I realize I need to tell him how very grateful I am for the time he made for me and Benjamin today.

Because even after Benjamin got off the phone with my dad, I ended up calling back to put my dad on speaker phone with four of the other kids so they could ask follow-up questions. Without hesitation, my dad greeted these four little strangers warmly, congratulated and affirmed the work they were investing in this project, and then clarified  all of their questions and concerns with great skill and patience.

And it didn't surprise me, for my dad has always graciously made room in his life to show up for me.

My dad's availability to me--and now to my family--is one of his purest demonstrations of love. When I see the way he happily takes time from his work and full life to invest in this project simply because I ask, he communicates that I am important to him, that I am not a headache or a burden.

He inspires me to respond to my kids' requests for help with enthusiasm and tenderness, to readily support them in whatever they undertake, no matter their age or ability. Though the demands are great some days, I want them to know, deep down, that being invited into their lives is my great joy.

Because I want them to keep asking as they grow up.

My parents--and Josh's, too--have communicated over and over that they are happy to help us in any way they can. Not in a helicopter-parent kind of way, but in the way that good parents genuinely support and show up for their kids.

Generally, Josh and I are pretty self-sufficient and appropriately independent and all grown-up and such, but there is comfort in knowing we can call them up when a need arises, and the answer is not only yes, but a generous and enthusiastic yes at that.

I want my kids to feel that same value and freedom. When the babies come or the house needs to be packed or the money's tight or the day has reduced them to tears, I want them to call, confident the response from my end will be respect, compassion, and great joy at the invitation to participate in their lives.

And it begins now, in the dozens of small, daily moments when my littles come to me wearing vulnerability on their sleeve: not yet big enough or coordinated enough or sophisticated enough to navigate their world entirely on their own.

May I view each request not as an inconvenience but as an opportunity to send a powerful message of love to my precious kiddos. May I discipline myself to pause what I'm doing, look them in they eye, and smile at the privilege of being the one they ask.

Even if it's the twenty-fourth time in as many hours.

Even if it's the twenty-fourth time in as many minutes. Especially then.

For that is how we build trust to last a lifetime.

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