Today’s story must start with a disclaimer: My children, despite what they may tell you, are cared for–and some might argue well. They have plenty of food to eat, a roof over their heads, access to quality medical care and education, and all the love in the world. They also have lessons and trips and vacations; toys and books and puzzles; clothes, comfortable transportation, and each other.
To appreciate what comes next, these facts need to be digested.
So, now we can begin . . .
My oldest son Oscar is a bright boy. I often joke that he has long surpassed me and that the only thing I have left to offer him is my driver’s license. He is content to sit and read and then sit some more. I understand this. I don’t mind moving, if there is a purpose behind it (for example, walking to get ice cream); but for him (and for me) superfluous movement seems, well, superfluous.
But despite our shared disinclination to move, I understand the necessity of exercise. He does intellectually but does not put it into practice. When exercise is suggested to him, he’ll partake–sometimes. And sometimes not. I am grateful–for the sake of his future health–that he has two active and very playful brothers and a father who is a dedicated dog-walker and avid cyclist. He’ll be fine. But as his mother, even of the non-athletic variety, I do try to present myriad opportunities for him to move. The playground is one of these opportunities.
To see Oscar at the playground is to see a school-aged curmudgeon in action. He complains about the weather, the equipment, other children if they are not behaving in accordance with his set of norms. He wonders why he cannot bring his book, why he even has to be there in the first place. And when he sits on the swing, he sits–waiting to be pushed. Sometimes one of his brothers will push him. Other times not. But when he asks me to push him, the answer is and has been for the last five years, “No.”
I know my son. For the same reason I no longer cut his food or butter his toast, I don’t push him on the swing. If I did it, he wouldn’t. And as long as he is capable, he should.
And capable he is. He is a healthy, growing boy who, because I have said no, knows how to get the swing in motion and keep it in motion as long as he desires.
But occasionally a stranger, an adult, will see my seemingly crestfallen son sitting still on the swing, calling off in the distance to his mother who is refusing his plaintive requests for a push.
And sometimes the stranger, out of what I can only construe as sympathy for this poor boy with the unkind mother, will take it upon himself or herself to push him.
And sometimes my son will unwittingly confirm what this stranger was and must be thinking: “Thanks for pushing me. My mom does nothing for us.”
He is joking of course–having mastered sarcasm years ago. And I can chuckle at his words and appreciate the spirit in which he delivers them.
But as this stranger does not know him–or me–the humor is lost.
And so is the lesson I was attempting to impart.