By Cristin Whiting
My son, Colin, is seven and for a long time I believed that what he thought about could be boiled down into three main categories: (1) Beyblades—a very popular game played by boys his age, similar to tops (2) His best friend, Chase and (3) Food.
Colin stands next to me in the kitchen several times a day filling a plate with food trying to fill that hollow leg of his. He chatters excitedly with his face aglow, explaining to me in great detail about which beys are best used for offensive attacks and which are best for defense. Which beys he has custom made and how they have performed against those of his best friend.
I try to hang on to what he is saying. It is clearly so important to him. But I don’t. My mind is cluttered with the to-dos of managing the business of our family and getting ready for the next workday. I phase in and out of what he is saying. I try to ask him a couple of questions to plug back into the conversation but the thread of it is too far-gone.
I give him a hug, kiss the top of his head, and make a vague comment like, “I’m happy for you, Honey” all the while feeling guilty for not paying more attention to the things he cares about; guilty for not being able to “relate.”
So, one night recently, I am lying on his bed with him having one last cuddle before he goes to sleep. My heart weighs heavy because I am looking at this beautiful boy and wishing I understood him better.
I say to him, “Colin, of all of the little boys who could have come out of my tummy, I am glad it was you.”
He kisses my nose and says, “Thanks mom, and of all of the moms I could have had I am glad that it is you.”
The room is quiet for a moment and then I ask him a question…a question I feel sort of weird asking him but I ask it anyway, “Honey, what do you think about?”
Then he begins…
“Sometimes I wonder how many grains of sand there are in Egypt. I bet there is something like a kajillion billion zillion or something like that. So many grains of sand you can’t even count…”
“I wonder a lot what how many different kinds of sand there are.”
“You think about that?” I ask him, shocked.
“Oh yeah, I think about that a lot! There is the honey colored sand and the brown sugar kind of sand…” His voice drifts off in wonder as he contemplates the possibilities of sand. Then he continues…
“I wonder what it would be like to listen to your heart in a stethoscope. Would it sound like BOOM BOOM or would it just sound regular like boom boom?”
“I wonder how many stars there are in the sky. There probably isn’t a right answer for that. You can’t just fly around and say, there is one. There is another.”
“And I wonder what is on the other side of the galaxy. Is it all just one white place? What is it?” he says with a shrug of his shoulders.
I lay next to him in silent amazement. This is what he thinks about. Not just bey blade battles, not just his best friend, not even food. He asks himself questions about science and the universe. He asks himself unanswerable questions. He wonders…
We talk a bit more and then I say to him, “Colin, I’ve always been curious about what you think about and I really appreciate your sharing all of that with me.” And what he says next was like getting lopped over the head with brink…
He says, “You are welcome, Mama. Thanks for listening.”
And there is was… I hadn’t been listening to my son. That isn’t what he said, but it is what I knew.
Since that conversation lying in his bed, something has shifted between the two of us. He did feel heard that night. He did feel understood. And now, as I listen to him, I hear that he has been saying a lot more to me than I thought.
For instance there are lots of times when he has asked for more freedom. He wants to be able to run around the neighborhood with his friend. He wants to be able to ride his bike on the street by himself. He tells me that he wants to “feel the wind in his hair.” He has told me these things many times but I dismissed them as one more thing for me to worry about.
Now, that I am listening for what matter to him I am out with him on the weekend working with him on his bike. I give him tasks to work on each week so he can develop the skills and maturity he will need to grow into those freedoms. As the weeks have gone by he has developed and he has matured—and not just in the areas that he cares about but in the areas I care about too: He cleaned is room and is keeping it clean. When I ask him to do something he (mostly) does it after the first request. When an angry reaction would have erupted out of an every day frustration, he now briefly tenses up and then handles it. Gone is the tone that can stretch the word, “Mom” out for so long I want to apply for a name change.
Theologian and Philosopher, Paul Tillich said, “The first duty of love is to listen” and for good reason. I have a new relationship with my son because I looked past what I thought I new about him and I listened to what he had been trying to tell me all along. Inside of that listening, he is able to grow and expand into a young boy who seeks adventure, who loves to explore and has a thirst for experiencing life—And yes, that is something to which I can very much relate.