Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Teach them well, and let them lead the way

I picked up Luke a bit early from daycare on Monday so I could take him to get a haircut. I take him to a salon for kids, so I was really surprised when there were 3 people ahead of us at 3:45 on a Monday. But, being a salon for children, they have a play area. The waiting area is arranged with bench seats lining two walls in the shape of an L, with a kid-sized table positioned at the end of one set of seats. It's a small table, maybe 3 feet (about a meter) in diameter, and they have a bin full of flat plastic shapes with magnets embedded in the edges (3-4 inches (7-10 cm) on the longest side of any given shape, maybe 1/4 inch (5 mm) thick). Luke *loves* them. It's easy to make a high tower because the magnets keep them more stable and well stacked.

There was another mom there with her two boys, ages about 15 months and nearly 4 (based on overhearing a conversation between him and mom). The other mom was sitting in the seat right next to the table. I sat down a seat away from her (leaving a space between us), about 6 feet (2 meters) from the table. The older boy was looking around and playing with all sorts of other things, but he had no interest in the table or the shapes. Until Luke sat down and started stacking them. First, he tried to "help" Luke, which was actually much more like "take over and do it for Luke." But I gritted my teeth and watched it play out. Kids have to figure this stuff out for themselves, no matter how hard it is for me as a mom to just sit there and watch. They got most of the shapes stacked up, and it fell over, the majority of the pieces falling to the ground. The other kid picked up a few of them and went to play on the other side of the table, leaving Luke to pick up the mess by himself.

After Luke got all the squares stacked up again, I could tell the kid was coveting the squares, so I asked Luke if he would please share with the other boy. There were maybe 40 squares total. Luke gave him about 5. I just rolled my eyes and went over to him. "Luke, you have almost all of the squares, and he doesn't have many. You need to give him some more." Two more? "No, let's give him more than two." And I broke off a hunk, giving them basically the same number (I didn't count them, so they weren't perfectly even, but within 1-2). Other Mom then prompts, "What do you say to him?" We got a grudging "thanks," and that was that. And I thought things were good. Each boy has a stack of squares, and there are plenty of triangles in the middle to go around.

Luke is happy. Other kid is not. He stacks some up, then turns around to his mom (who is really having to keep an eye on the 15 month old, needless to say) and starts whining. "Mom, he has all the squares! I want all the squares!" No, she says, he doesn't have them all, he was very nice and shared with you. You both have plenty of squares, and there are lots of triangles to play with. "But I want all the squares!" Well, you can't have them, says Other Mom, you have to share. This statement was greeted with crossed arms and a scowl.

By this point, Luke's tower had grown quite high, and the triangles were not nearly as stable as the squares had been, so it fell over. The squares stayed together in a stack, just laying on its side on the table, but the triangles had come off and fallen to the floor, breaking apart from one another, so they had to be picked up one at a time. Luke bends over, still seated for now, and starts picking up the triangles from under the table. Mom is off retrieving the 15 month old from the trash can, her back to the table. The other kid walks over to Luke's spot and takes the entire stack of squares that is sitting in front of Luke. Luke sat up just in time to see the kid walk off with them. Of course my first instinct is to tell the kid to put them back. (Actually, my first instinct is to snatch them back!) But I hate the thought of disciplining another child right there in front of his mom. Surely when she turns around and sees what he has done, surely she'll make him put them back.

Luke wasn't angry, he was just crushed. He looked over at me, pleading. "Mom, he took all the squares." Other Mom has come back by now, and her son is showing her how tall his tower is. She has not noticed how many more squares he has now than he did. I am *trying* not to make a big deal out of it. "Luke, you have all the triangles now! Why don't you see what you can make out of that." He gives me a small pout, which is genuine (when he's pouting for effect, it is much bigger!), and it nearly breaks my heart. But Mom, says Luke, he took them from me. I am about to call him over to me and try to figure out something to say, knowing none of it will make up for what just happened and feeling terrible.

About this time, Other Mom tunes in. "Did you take those squares from that boy?" No, says the son. Luke chimes in with "yes, he did!" And I think it is very telling that she took Luke's word for it. So Other Mom breaks the stack in half and gives half to Luke. Other Boy starts *screaming* at the top of his lungs. "NO! THOSE ARE MINE! THEY'RE MY SQUARES!" Que the lecture from Other Mom about not taking things from other people, and how they belong to the salon not to him, and he will have his game system taken away when they get home if he can't stop screaming, etc etc. Luke is looking a little stunned, trying to figure out what all of the fuss is about. "Mom, is he in trouble?" (When do they learn tact?) I went over to him and said yes, that his mom was talking to him about sharing and not taking toys from other kids, and he wasn't listening, just like Luke gets in trouble when he doesn't listen. I told him it was okay, and he should just keep playing with the shapes. And I tried my best to say this in a low enough voice that she couldn't hear me. Other Mom has now forbidden Other Boy to play with the shapes. The table is right next to her bench seat, almost touching it. She sits her son on the other side of her, and Luke doesn't care to go over and get the other boy's shapes that are now no longer in use (probably a wise move). He has a stack of squares, he is happy.

Then, through the door, comes a mom with four kids under the age of 8. The two smallest ones, probably just under 2 (boy) and right at 3 (girl), immediately go over to the table and pick up a few triangles. They seemed perfectly content with the shapes they had, not fussing about or asking for any of Luke's. But still, I think he should give them at least a few squares each. I heave a big sigh, thinking about how badly things just went with sharing with that Other Boy, struggling to figure out how to suggest sharing again without him feeling betrayed, or to see if I could get the other squares from next to the Other Mom without starting another outburst from Other Kid. But there was no need for me to worry.

With absolutely no hesitation, Luke immediately broke off two chunks of his stack of squares and gave them to the newcomers. "Here you go, you can play with these," he said. He wasn't looking at me, and I didn't say anything; he was not doing it based on any sort of signal from me. He did it completely of his own volition. I had to do a whole lot of blinking to keep the tears of pride and joy at bay. Even after what had just happened, he still wanted to share, and he did so of his own accord.

I thought my heart would burst with happiness. I mean, I know he's a good kid, I do. But on occasion, I can't help but wonder if anything I am saying is sinking in. Like most children, his behavior is occasionally appalling. So to see such an act of genuine kindness and caring for others spontaneously demonstrated at the age of 4, especially having just had a similar charitable act essentially spit upon, it just thrills my soul. I hope it continues.

Currently feeling: so proud


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Nana is so proud, she can't see the computer screen through the tears to type anything that would make sense. Good job Luke! Good job Mom!

  3. Yay, Luke!

    And Yay, Erin!!! =)

  4. Yay for Luke. That is great that he is learning to be such a caring person.

  5. Aw, that's a great kid you have there!! Be proud!!

    I am kind of surprised Other Mom disciplined Other Kid though, based on what I've seen out and about. It is nice to know that some parents actually parent!


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