Thursday, June 30, 2005

Learning to Be Gentle

Trying to teach a three-year-old boy about being kind and gentle often feels like trying to teach a parakeet how to scuba-dive. But we try anyway.

Every day -- every hour -- every two-and-a-half minutes -- we're reminding Elliot to take his feet off of his little sister's head. It hurts when you pull on my neck like that. Stop pushing Olivia. Please don't throw toys where they might hit someone else. Ouch -- that hurt! It's not kind to sit on your sister. When she cries, Elliot, that means she doesn't like what you're doing. Go have a time-out on your bed. Do you understand what we're telling you?

It never seems to end. We're caught up in a relentless pursuit of kindness and gentleness. And it's difficult to maintain self-composure in the process. I'm ashamed to say that I lost the battle with Elliot earlier this evening.

We were playing in the basement and were having a pretty good time. But my boy is a kicker; he can kick surpringly hard. So I was warning him to be gentle with his kicking. And he also happens to be a grabber; at a moment's notice, he will grab a piece of human flesh with all his might (if often seems to be my neck) and twist it in the direction he desires so attention is properly focused on him. So I was warning him to be gentle with his grabbing -- very calm and parental and all that good stuff. But it's amazing how his little fingers and little fingernails can inflict such pain on a grown man. And after one particular grab, pain and adrenaline filling my system, I raised my voice and sternly spat in Elliot's face: "Be - Gentle!"

Immediately, his face crumpled like a paper bag. His lower lip curled and quivered, and the tears soon followed. I suddenly felt shame and regret, knowing that I had shown myself to be not gentle, even in the act of yelling, "Be gentle!" He sobbed, "I only wanted to do the thing with your cheeks like Mommy does" (referring to a family game in which a person's cheeks are squished together in such a way to pucker up the mouth and create funny sights and sounds when common words are squeezed out through the chubby lips). He only wanted to play the Cheek Game. And I yelled at him. What should one do in such a situation? He was inconsolable. And I was sorry.

So I sat Elliot on my lap, apologized for my lack of gentleness, and asked for his forgiveness. Then I brought his small warm hands up to my face and gently pressed them -- my hands covering and guiding his -- against my cheeks to pucker up my mouth, so we could share in the joy of the Cheek Game and ponder together our lessons learned on the art of being gentle.


At 10:04 PM, Anonymous mom said...

Your story of Elliot brought tears to my eyes - both in remembering similar times when you were a child and I was "not very gentle" and for my sweet little grandson. The older I get, the more I see the need for gentleness all around me. I SO appreciate that you are a father who is not afraid to ask forgiveness of his children (much like your dad). It makes all the difference in the world.

At 7:36 AM, Blogger Eric Asp said...

Thanks for the comment. Especially considering the commentator, such words of affirmation are a high compliment.


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