Every weekend I take my sons to breakfast, individually, to listen to them, teach them, and better myself. Start at the bottom, and read up.
via Amber Prestwich:
“I thought this was so cute and couldn’t wait to tell you :)
So I was with Jared the other day and I was telling him how much I miss you all and Jersey (trying to persuade him that I should come out for a visit sooner lol)
We started talking about the day we took the boys to the aquarium and boardwalk. Jared told me that he had been looking forward to throwing me into the water the whole day. I looked at him confused (he didn’t try to throw me in that day, nor did he ever mention anything about it) I asked why I was just now hearing about his “let down” of a plan. He said he couldn’t. Max wouldn’t let him.
Apparently he told Max about his plan and said it was a surprise so he shouldn’t say anything to me. Max just looked at him and said “I don’t think Amber will like that surprise” giggling a little. Jared reassured him that it was a good and fun plan and again that they should keep it a surprise. Max responded ” I don’t really think that’s a good surprise”. A little less giggly. Jared asked why he thought that. Max just looked at him and said with a serious face “I’m going to have to tell Amber”
Jared told him he was right and that it wasn’t a good idea, so they both agreed not to say anything about it to me, but I thought it was so cute that Max was looking out for me lol.”
Amber Prestwich is a close family friend, and was Max’s nanny from birth until around 3 years old. She is now married and lives in Utah with her husband Jared, but visits frequently and loves Max and Sam like they were her own.
Friday night I said, “Older – you know tomorrow is Saturday. Do you know what we do on Saturdays?”
Older, in a distracted, bored voice, “We go to breakfast.”
I guess I’m happy that he knew the answer and that it’s becoming routine. Having him hold the event in the same light of importance as I is probably stupid. I’ll stop. Routine is good, I think.
Come Saturday morning, though, it was meltdown-city in our house. Not relating to breakfast specifically, just normal 2 and 4 year old tantrums and general misery being bestowed on anyone in earshot. Because I’d already established that not doing or somehow skimping on breakfast is not an option (and had a minor argument with my wife about this one) I just battened down the hatches and forced him to get dressed against his will – him screaming the whole time:
“I don’t want to go to breakfast! I want to stay here! I want to watch a show! NOOOOOOOOOO!!!”
I felt like the parent of the year at that moment.
So I pick him up and forcibly put in in the car seat and strap him in like he’s Hannibal Lecter (no face mask). I pause just long enough to wonder what I would/will do when he’s bigger and just as obstinate.
I pull out of the driveway and calmly say, “So – where do you want to eat?”
No answer / more screaming. “Should we go to [the usual coffee shop]?”
He answers – screams:
“I DON’T WANT TO GO THERE!!”
Progress. I decide to just drive for a bit and ignore the yelling. I put on some music. After about 2 more minutes I calmly say, “Are you almost done? I’m hungry.”
He answers – not screaming, but still phlegmy and choked up:
“I’m almost done.”
I’ll leave you to decide what this means, but I took it as progress and evidence that he is aware and capable of reducing his tantrums, but it’s difficult. I think he has frustration, stubbornness and anger problems. Like I did as a kid (um… still do?)
He did calm down, and decided he wanted to go to the bagel store. When we did, the whole thing was subdued. I think we were both tired. No deep conversations, and he actually spent a lot of the time looking around and not necessarily engaging with me.
He didn’t seem mad… just disinterested.
When I did ask him a question about camp, while we were cleaning up to leave, he said,
“Let’s talk about it in the car.”
I thought this was a really adult thought, and it freaked me out a little bit. I couldn’t imagine (and I never found out) why he didn’t want to talk about it in the restaurant, but the fact that he had his reasons and was calmly able to articulate them and maneuver the playing field for our conversation was a little disconcerting.
Welcome to parenting.
One of the things I’ve noticed over the last few weeks is that without exception, once Older and I get in the car to go for our breakfasts, he’s happy as can be — but it’s really a different story while we’re still in the house. He isn’t always psyched to go, and sometimes actively resists.
I really think he likes going with me, but it’s almost like he’s a different person when he’s in the “full” environment of the house, television, mommy, brother, etc. This has further reinforced the importance of these breakfasts. It’s pretty rare that he gets time with just one of us with no competition.
Today, once we got going, I said, “Older, maybe we can hit a garage sale after breakfast.”
He replied, “Maybe they’ll have toys. Will Mommy and Younger come?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “Do you want to go back to get them?”
He quickly finished, “Maybe just you and me can go.”
He welcomes the opportunity to not compete for time to express his thoughts – competition with schedule, distractions, agendas of others… – the breakfasts are a great portal opening up the opportunity for unencumbered information flow (what normal people call ‘bonding,’ i guess.)
One thing I think we’ve gotten good at at breakfasts, and which facilitates that true information flow – is silence. There seems to be a high imperative among adults of the parent-class for a near-constant extrusion of talking, guiding, teaching, ‘pointing out,’ or otherwise (dare i say a bit awkwardly) example-setting when around kids.
In other words, that the *kids* are the focus if they’re even within earshot, not the parents who ostensibly are supposed to be living their lives in front of kids. This must be freakishly confusing to the kids.
Sometimes, we’re not even talking to the kids at all. What we’re doing is performing for the others in the room – a spouse, a parent, an in-law, another playdate parent:
“<Little Billy>… now you know we never splash others, don’t you? We’re going to play nice like we were doing just before!”
At home, alone, it would have been: “Billy. Quit splashing.” And the phrase “just before” would mean ‘just before that other parent who doesn’t know that my kid isn’t a splashing brat walked in’
“Oh – aren’t you just the cutest thing! Did your mommy give you that beautiful new dress just for today?” Is the kid supposed to even answer that?? They don’t answer, because they know the person isn’t even talking to them!
And if we’re not performing, sometimes we’re trying to brainwash:
“We love going to camp, don’t we??”
“Are you wearing your favorite sneakers??”
“What was your favorite thing you did today?”
“Wasn’t that fun?”
I don’t believe this to be the right way to parent or behave. Obviously we should avoid behaviors in front of children that are damaging, but how can you be a role model as a parent or just as an adult if you’re just reflecting reactions back to any child that’s in a room?
Children learn by watching, but best when what they’re watching is genuine – not a performance. Guess what – kids know it’s a performance. Just be yourself and ignore them and they learn a lot more than when they think you’re trying to make everything into a teachable moment.
As such – and one of my favorite things that has come out of the breakfast sessions – Older and I can now just sit there, in silence, for several minutes. And when he initiates conversation, it’s pure gold — because that’s what HE wants to talk about, which is genuine. And when I initiate, he listens – it’s not just the next municipality in the suburban sprawl of adult->child dialogue; it’s a welcome watering hole after miles of desert.
I know the silence is unique because the first time we had it for more than two minutes — following breathlessly getting into my car after escaping the hectic preparations of a Saturday morning – we were both a little shocked. We both had been lost in our thoughts and I looked in the rear-view; he looked back at me, and we both had a new milestone.
The great thing about this week is that I think he and I are getting into a rhythm of communication that, for my part, is based purely on understanding. I’m really trying to just listen, without performing for him or others, and without any attempt at guidance. As a result, i’m really learning and we’re really connecting.
We haven’t missed a week, and to be honest I think the concept of Saturday breakfasts is starting to sink in for him (and me, i guess). When I say to Older on Friday nights, “So, do you know what we’re doing tomorrow?” for the most part he remembers, “Having breakfast?”
I’ve been genuinely enjoying them, and we’re finding a rhythm. We park, we order, sometimes we play with toys he brings; sometimes we do our own thing for a bit until the food comes.
He usually has pancakes (though when we went to a bagel shop one time he had a buttered bagel again. I had whitefish salad).
I usually have an omelette with rye toast and hash browns.
Sometimes I get tomato juice; he usually gets water.
One part of the routine seems to be his getting up after we eat to wash his hands. He doesn’t like to be sticky, and really likes when I let him pretty much go and do it himself. He’s not old enough to let him go entirely by himself, but I try to hang back.
After we leave, we usually walk around or do at least something else for 10-20 minutes before we head home. A couple of times we’ve gone to garage sales which we’ve both enjoyed.
Getting back to the hand washing and food ordering, he’s a serious boy, and knows when people are patronizing him. He wants to do things himself, and I get so angry when other adults – especially relatives (obviously for this statement I’m venturing outside the bounds of Saturday breakfasts) – either help him when he doesn’t want to be helped or do that stupid patronizing wink/wink type of response to what he believes are serious tasks he’s trying to perform like a grown up.
The most interesting part of this for me is how angry I get over it. Honestly, angrier than anything else in my life can make me right now. Interesting.
The only other items of note over these weeks were that
-on July 9th we had an interesting conversation about the meaning of “stubborn,” in the context of his exhibiting this quality in spades. I tried to explain what it was and how to get around it. I have my own anger and stubbornness issues, and i see them in him as clearly as I see my own face in a mirror.
-on July 16th we eschewed our normal coffee shop destination and hit the bagel store. Afterwards he wanted to sit on the curb, so we did. It was nice.
The things that I think are progressing are my ability to talk with him in a meaningful way and his acceptance of the breakfasts as part of our routine.
The thing I’m struggling with is writing about them on the day that we do it, and when I don’t I’ve lost the thread by the time I get to it. If any part of this isn’t working right I’d certainly prefer sacrificing the writing over the breakfasts, but I think I’m going to get the writing part in line too. The whole thing is a bit of an experiment still.
I can say that my writing troubles aside, after each breakfast I’m genuinely amazed at how it’s working and progressing. So.
He stops and looks me dead in the eye – and says, “I’m getting the yuckies out.”
It was hard to argue with that.
This was our first Saturday at home (our second overall). There’s a coffee shop in our town which is tailor made for the already Rockwell-esque tradition we’re starting. When we sit at the counter (which we did) we look like we belong in a 50′s picture book on fatherhood. Waitresses give us that “isn’t that sweet” look and the whole thing is pretty visually idyllic.
What I didn’t realize, of course, was that a whole bunch of people think I’m divorced and getting my “weekend” time with my son. Especially when I ask questions like “How was your week? How was camp?” Now granted I worked late a few days, but I was in the house all week! My questions were meant to try to dig further under the surface for purposes of ‘the breakfasts,’ but…
Ah, well. I have a wedding ring on and f_ck-em if they don’t get it. I’m hanging with my son.
We had a nice talk about camp; he told me about some of his friends. I’m starting to get the hang of how to ask him questions and learn the real answers. I’m realizing it’s a skill.
My favorite part was at the end, when he asked me if we could “walk around” for a bit. We live in a town with an old main street and stores, etc., so this is a feasible request, especially when the weather is good, which it was. We went into a couple of stores (I bought cigars, we got Mommy some fruit to bring to the beach…).
I learned that Older was afraid to walk on train tracks, even if there was no crossing alarm.
He asked me if we could just sit and watch people. When my not-yet-four year old son asked me that I knew genetics rule. I love doing that.
I’d set today as the older one’s and my first Saturday breakfast, but we’re at my in-laws’ house in Long Island. Though I’d have rathered pick a place near home – especially for the first one – i figured it was better to do it here than not do it.
He must have known something was up, because he was on fire from the moment he woke up at 5a. I convinced him to stay in bed with me, but he wasn’t tired. At around 5:25 he said to me, in full daytime voice, “You know Dad – if you have boogers you can just smell them back in.”
I knew this was an instant classic. It had to be worked into a metaphor for breakfast. I wasn’t sure it would be possible, but I’d definitely try.
He seemed excited for breakfast – unmprompted, he told my wife “Just me and Daddy are going.”
Before we had even gotten to the car while I was getting ready to put him in my seat he looks me dead in the eye and says “What’s your talent?”
Listen buddy- I’ ask the deep questions here! I don’t know where he picked that up, but it definitely jumped us right into the intended reflectory mood – remember, more often than not he’s yelling for a toy or a cookie – so this was a little unsettling. I stammered “uh, I listen well…” (not even true) – but almost before I got it out of my mouth he started rattling off his own. My talents are: ‘running, jumping swimming paddling’ (what??) ‘pushing buttons’ (yes, but now how he says), ‘taking deep breaths….’ like this all the way to the bagel place. Seriously – about 5 solid minutes of talents. ‘…learning, trying new things…’ (again, what?? is this a four year old or an internship candidate?)
It’s a beautiful day and we are both in good spirits.
We went to the local bagel store. He had a bagel with butter; i had whitefish salad. Plus I ate half of his.
We talked more about talents — I gave mine (auditory learning? understanding people’s motivations? corporate politics?).
I was able to get some insights about his school, his friends…. after some time he started to open up about how he interacts and plays. It became clear to me at that point that this was a worthwhile exercise. Slowly I was getting into his head and connecting with him on a level that we are typically unable during the brief snippets of ‘alone time’ we are normally allowed in the day to day routine.