I wish you could see him as a four-year-old boy on the playground last week. Maybe you would change your mind. He was playing with a couple of new school friends, a boy and girl. They discovered a broken tree covered in colourful ribbons. It was lying on the ground across from the sandbox right by the school fence. They were fully engaged in the game, tying and untying the ribbons, treating what they were doing with the seriousness children reserve only for games.
Then I notice the tilt of the head and the furrowed brow. Chin and voice are raised an octave as he says, “umm…” I am the number one world leading expert on his body language and I know exactly what this means. It’s a classical, “I’m going to ask for something and I’ll be as polite as possible, because it’s very important that everyone loves me, but also it’s super important that they say yes, because I know how to make this game AWESOME.” Anyone observant enough can see that ever so slight tilt of the head, but I am the only one who knows what’s coming.
He’s positioning himself in an asking position -- “can…” -- he starts then stops in his tracks reconsidering, carefully selecting his words opting for the even more polite, “could.” "Could you help me decorate this tree?" He asks the little girl. When the little guy offers his help, Four-Year-Old is adamant: It has to be the girl. He presents the boy with another task instead. The girl’s mother and I exchange an understanding laugh; he knows he needs a woman’s touch for this, we agree.
The girl’s mother commends him for his manners. There. Mission accomplished. He’s been polishing up his social skills, constantly perfecting already polite sentences by replacing “could you” and “would you” with a non-necessary “may you.” And he is happy right now on this playground. I think I can almost see his chest rise in pride. He is polite. Everybody can see how polite he is and they love him for it.
“But he didn’t say please!”
The little girl’s shrill, unforgiving tone makes my heart skip a beat. I try not to let anyone in, least of all him, on the internal turmoil that’s taken me over. I look at his face and see the movements of his heart and brain. I can see his struggle to not show. Is he asking himself if he was not polite enough despite trying so hard, is he formulating a life rule, his own equivalent of “nice guys finish last”? Then I discover what “rising above” sounds like in the mouth of a four-year-old boy. He fills his lungs with air and lets it out with a low, accepting defeat, “pliz.” Chin lowered. Our eyes lock.
I smile at him reassuringly but I think of you, the girl that’s going to do this to him in a few years time. Would it be like that? A sudden blow when he’s so engaged and oblivious? Or would you just leave him hanging like the other little girl on the playground, the one he was trying so hard to get to laugh while she wouldn’t so much as glance at him? I am always there circling around in my little emotional first aid ambulance as back up, ready to jump in with a joke to diffuse any situation, relinquish the awkward silences after his unanswered questions; my pager is always on so I don’t miss anything, but the Mombulance only works when you’re four. He’ll come to expect this support of you and you will give it. For a while.
I am not sure what I’m asking of you. Maybe I just want you to know how endlessly kind and sensitive he is. Always was. Please let him down easy.
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