an army of one.

Cole went to the petting zoo this week.  No, not at Woodland Park in Seattle or Pt. Defiance in Tacoma.  It happened during performing arts class.  In the beginning of 6thgrade the students get to try out all of the band instruments to discover which one they might want to play.  Horn.  Flute.  Snare drum.  Or not.  For they can also choose chorus.  While the decision over which world language to take flummoxed Cole for weeks – Japanese…no, French…wait, Spanish!  There was no such doubt about this.  He couldn’t wait to try each and every one.  Tuesday he returned home solid in his conviction:  clarinet.  (Trombone ran a distant second).

So yesterday, in advance of the weekend rush, I went to our local music store and rented the woodwind of choice.  The look on his face when he got home was priceless – uncomplicated bliss.  All he wanted was to gaze at it, assemble it, reverently touch the keys.  He had yet to make a sound out of it (they didn’t have the required reeds in stock) and that made absolutely no difference to Cole.  You could see note after note float through his imagination.  Beauty in the eye of the (be)holder.  His delight was palpable.  How could we not appreciate a child who wants to create?  Well, I’ll get to that part of the story…

This week Cole has also had incredible stomachaches.  In our family, that can mean a lot of things.  On the one hand, it is absolutely how he manifests stress.  So, it could be, that the beginning of middle school is creating so much anxiety that it is giving him abdominal pains.  On the other hand, this week we also bought a loaf of gluten-free cinnamon raisin bread at a local bakery.  My guess is there could have been some cross-contamination.  Which would also give him these exact same bellyaches.  Or, it could be a combination of both.  Regardless, at the end of each evening when he should be asleep he has spent at least two hours with his arms across his middle, bent over, moaning.

Last night I got to escape for a few hours with dear friends – wine and wisdom.  When I got home the lights were all out but Cole was still awake.  We talked through a range of tried-and-true options that might help him feel better.  Cole’s novel solution was to ask if the clarinet could sleep in his room, sure that would alleviate all pain.  I reminded him that we’ve tried that with new books.  It doesn’t result in much sleeping, so, no, the clarinet would remain downstairs.  I went to bed.

And then, about 45 minutes later, I heard something.

I got up, went down the dark hall, and sure enough, the slit under his door was illuminated by light.  I opened the door and there he sat, stomachache clearly forgotten.  10:45 pm and he was wide awake, the grin on his face faded quickly to panic and guilt.  For it wasn’t his abdomen he was holding, but his clarinet.  ‘This was an incredibly unfortunate choice’ I bit out in a ferocious tone between clenched teeth.  I grabbed the clarinet.  I stalked out even as he was calling to me ‘make sure you take it apart and put it gently back in its case’.  I had no intention of doing either of those things.  I wanted to sleep.  I crawled into bed.  I closed my eyes.

I just lay there.  Mulling.  Granted, I was angry that he had heard my rule and broken it.  But what stuck in a repeating loop was the sense that I had also gotten mad at his joy.  ‘Well, next time.  Next time I’ll approach it differently’ I grumbled.

And then I found myself padding down the completely darkened hallway.

Because each time is the closest opportunity.  Waiting for ‘the next time’ was passing off into the future what I knew needed to happen at this moment.  So I opened his door, shuffled across his floor, curled up next to him on the bed.  ‘I could see in the twinkle of your eyes how thrilled you are to be playing the clarinet.  I can tell by the way you talked about it at dinner that you had thought about each and every instrument and carefully chose this one.  I know that your heart is beating with wild excitement about this new adventure.  I get it.  And I understand it.  And I love you.  {a few quiet breaths}.  And you need to know that when we give you boundaries they are not made idly or without thought.  You staying up until almost 11 o’clock on a school night is going to make school tomorrow and Friday incredibly difficult.  We’ll talk about what happens next in the morning.’  There was a gentle little sigh, he snuggled a little closer.  I kissed his forehead and left his room.

We have joined, and he feels understood.  Someone in his world, someone in his family, in the quiet of the night, gets who he is at the core.  He knows that I am with him.  He knows that I understand his heart’s desire, that I can see him on the inside.  Instead of stomping on his joy, I am holding it tenderly in my hands.  Instead of being his combatant, I am his compatriot.

Joining is a powerful act.  Taking a deep breath, setting aside our indignation, our anger, our disappointment and turning to be beside our children may be the most important steps we take.  Our boundaries and our values remain unchanged.  But instead of standing in conflict face-to-face we stand with them at their side, reach out to hold their hand, and guide them forward.  When we shift to the side we move out of the way and make room for our children to learn instead of blame, we teach instead of punish.

Joining.  An army of one.  Will you enlist?  Keep me posted.



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