Rearview

 

car side mirror

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Hurry them out of the car,

one grumpy, the other sleepy,

both smelling of toothpaste.

Try to ignore the wistful eyes

of the little one.

She hates being stuck

at the sitter’s house

with three boys.

 

The prickling guilt

lasts until the ignition turns.

Already other children

sweep onstage.

Twenty-four shoving,

claiming the spotlight.

Who needs more phonics?

Whose parent called?

How to fit in fire safety

when we’re behind in math?

Mark workbooks at lunch.

A meeting takes up prep time.

 

Rush to collect the kids.

Dinner.

He doesn’t like eggs.

She hates tomatoes.

Nobody wants pasta.

Yelling.

 

Wait for the neighbor girl.

Should have left ten minutes ago.

The grad class prof takes attendance.

In the rearview mirror

see the three standing on the lawn.

He looks mournful.

She flips the finger.

 

Parenting at the speed of light.

Did we ever just rest in each other?

Listen?

 

Now I hold a photograph.

Two young children,

long grown.

Wishing I could step inside.

 

My Father’s Wisdom

selective focus photography of child hand

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My father had a few pithy sayings that he liked to repeat. Some of these merely justified his personal preferences, such as, “Fruit juice is for sick people and babies.” But other aphorisms made sense. One of these came to me the other day.

“Address the behavior, not the child.”

My father was a child psychologist. He may not have applied all of his theories to raising me, but this idea, at least, I remember, and still find valid. Not only in relation to children, but to adults as well.

For parents, it’s tough raising children in today’s culture. They have a lot to contend with. So many labels in social media are out there, waiting to stick to a child: bad, fat, stupid, ugly, or smart, talented, etc. We even have a president who throws labels around, calling people “bad” or “nasty.”

Bad behavior or choices, okay, but just “bad people?” We can do better.

To say, “That’s good,” or “You’re a good _______” doesn’t help a child much. It’s more useful to be specific. “I like the way you _______ .” Arranged the pillows on your bed. Cleaned up all the Legos. Helped your friend who fell down. Used the yellow paint in your picture.

We let the child know specifically what was done well.

Adults also respond positively to hearing what they do well.

In my writing group, structured according to the Amherst Writers and Artists method, we give positive feedback to first drafts. We point out what was strong or memorable, what “stays with us.” Writers use that information to improve.

It works the same way with kids.

Listen

animal animal photography barbaric big

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Listen.

When the scalp prickles.

When the child speaks.

When the gut tightens.

Listen to the heart’s whisper.

 

Listen.

To the hiss, the words, the warning,

Of the wrong step, person, choice.

When the lonely days make you desperate,

When you long for a caress,

When the body shouts loud,

Listen to the heart’s whisper.

 

Listen.

It’s so easy to get caught,

Trapped by legal fishnets,

By a house, by a promise.

Listen to that whisper,

the soft, the soul,

the voice that knows.

 

And follow.

 

 

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