By Sandy Egan
It is very difficult for an adult to empathize with a child because, although we have all been children at one time, we remember things through a warped perception. Perception becomes warped because we have grown physically and emotionally over the years, and though we may remember being eight or 13, we remember through an adult’s eye.
This hit home for me not too long ago with my son.
My son is 11 now, and although he is tall for his age, he is physically still very much a boy, not a teenager. As his mother, it was very weird when he grew taller than me. I am not a very tall or big person. I am just over five feet tall and weigh around 115 pounds. My son is now about two inches taller than me, but I easily outweigh him by 40 pounds. My husband is six feet four inches tall, and outweighs my son by at least 140 pounds. The reason I bring this up is because as a child grows, it’s a tricky thing to maintain authority when you don’t have physical authority over them anymore.
This issue will be a non-issue for my husband, who is a big guy by anyone’s standards. As an adult, I see him as being just a big guy. How my son sees him, though, is an entirely different matter.
This was my son’s first year out of elementary school, and he had to adjust to many different things throughout the beginning of first marking period. Mostly in the past, if he was having trouble in school keeping up with his assignments, his teacher would call me and he would be monitored closely. In middle school, the pace is much faster and a teacher can’t monitor him or any other child as much. He had to adjust his pace and take more responsibility for himself this year. As a result, his first report card was not a good representation of his ability as a student. In one subject in particular, he had a lot of trouble. As his mother, I sat down with him, talked to him about his responsibilities and gave him some consequences (he wasn’t allowed to play video games for a few weeks). When his second report card came home, it was drastically improved. I let him know that he was doing a great job and he got his video games back. I was patting myself on the back for helping him turn the corner when I said to him,
“So, what do you think helped you the most to turn this around?”
He looked at me and said,
“Well, I didn’t like getting my games taken away, and I was embarrassed that I didn’t do very well.” Then he paused. “Also, I had a talk with Dad after I got my report card.”
“Really?” I said. I hadn’t realized that my husband had a separate discussion with him. “What did Dad say that made you take your school work more seriously?” (He had been diligently doing his homework every afternoon, working madly.)
“Well,” he said, and his eyes got big, “Dad was outside raking the leaves, and he said in a really deep voice, ‘Bud, I want to talk to you about your report card’. He was standing on top of a huge hill, and the sun was behind him and made him glow all red and orange. I walked over to him and he said, ‘We don’t bring home grades like that in this house.’ Then the wind started to blow and it got really cold, and he said ‘I don’t want to see it happen again’. His face looked all dark and he glowed all orange and red, and whenever I feel like I don’t want to do my work at school, I think of him like that and I never, ever want to see it again.”
(Not for nothing do we call him Mr. Imagination.)
I said, “Okay” and let him get to work.
Later, I asked my husband,
“Hey, do you remember having a talk with your son about his last report card?”
“Oh, yeah.” he said. “I just had a quick word with him and told him I expect him to do better. No great big discussion or anything.”
So there it is. Perception is everything. On one hand, a simple discussion. On the other, an encounter with a mythic creature. You just never know how a child will interpret things.