There is a time in every kid’s life when the advice of his or her parent starts being processed before it is digested.
All the unquestioned directives of early childhood die off, and kids start to analyze whether these pearls of wisdom they are hearing actually apply to them.
In the abstract, it is a natural part of growing up; in reality, it can be a pain in the rear.
I expected this to happen with my sons … just not quite so soon.
Recently, after exhausting all other opinions present, my 8-year-old called me at work because he was having trouble with a math problem.
He told me the problem and I realized it exceeded the math-in-my-head limit (which is somewhere around cross multiplication) and that it involved some kind of chart, so I said I would help him when I got home.
“In the meantime,” I said, “just leave space for that problem and move on to the next one.”
By the way, if you think this last sentence goes without saying, your kids are much more advanced than mine.
They have both wasted hours delaying entire homework papers due to one early hurdle.
It appears, however, that the third-grader had grown accustomed to those long nights, because he clearly did not want to move on.
“But I don’t know how much space to leave,” he said, allowing the first strains of whine to trickle in.
“Just leave an average amount. Look at the other problems and the examples in the book and judge that way,” I told him.
“Besides, you’re working in pencil, right?”
“Good; then don’t worry. We can fix anything!”
At this point, I just heard some flustered scoffing on the line followed by, “What about air pollution!?”
“Huh?” I asked, wondering if I missed a step.
“You can’t fix air pollution!”
It would have been funny if he was kidding, but in his literal third-grade noggin he was actually mounting a defense. (This may be one of the reasons 8-year-olds sometimes have trouble challenging their parents — underdeveloped debate skills.)
Anyway, before we hung up I convinced him to just leave space, move on and finish his paper.
At least I thought I did.
When I got home later that afternoon, I asked him if the other problems went OK.
“Well …” he started, and then his eyes slowly settled on mine.
“You didn’t move on?” I said, loudly. “After I specifically told you to leave space and finish your paper?”
“I just didn’t think that was the best thing to do,” he said quietly.
That was when it was clear that he had heard me, disagreed and decided to go with what he thought was best.
And it reminded me of the times when I had been talking to him and could see behind his eyes, as only a parent can, that he was thinking: “I don’t think that’s right,” but he had still done what I told him to do.
Those were the good old days.
As for the current conversation, I told him that I will be more clear in the future when I am giving an opinion and when I am telling him what he needs to do.
“If I am not sure, I will tell you,” I said. “Otherwise, I am your mother and you need to listen to me.”
But, even as I said that, I knew that my unquestioned reign was over.
He is thinking more for himself, and actually following his own direction.
I know that will serve him well in the future.
As for the present, though, I hope he listens to his mother for a little while longer.