Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Caught Being Good

Dear Henry,

Today is not your birthday. In fact, we're about six months away from your next birthday. However, in thinking about how much I appreciate you, I've decided that I don't need a special occasion to write future you a little love note. 
Please son. I'm being serious. And to you Eliza: calm down. You're all 'my favorite.' :)

Speaking of Eliza, I'd like to introduce y'all to an idea she inspired. And yes, this letter is still directed toward Henry.
Your sister excels when a given task leads to a tangible reward. She is super a little competitive and highly motivated to get things done and to do them perfectly. You, on the other hand, don't like that type of pressure. If she declares that it's a race to see who can get into their pajamas first, you fall apart. Rushing through life leaves little time to stop and smell the roses. Whether its getting lost in a pile of dirt as you sift for worms, patiently master a lego project or sit and observe the chickens for forty five minutes after school, you appreciate life's little details and demonstrate a quiet patience as you work.
Thinking of an unknown future reward, Eliza collects a discarded bag of store bought sea shells and an empty jar.

"Is there anything I can help you with, Mom?" She asks. I suggest the first thing that comes to mind and she quickly gets to work. Placing a sea shell into the jar she explains,

"Whenever I do something nice to help, I get a sea shell. When it is full to the top, I get a reward." She then fetches a jar for Henry and Lottie. Before anyone says, "Go!" she's leading the race. She lets you, dear Henry, know that you are falling quickly behind. Confused and frustrated by a race you never signed up for, you fret.

The concept of service has been lost. And while I appreciate the favors, I do away with the sea shells and extra jars. School provides enough opportunity for Eliza to work hard for personal rewards. What we need is something to unite our family.

"We'll have a family jar." I declare. "You'll earn a warm fuzzy when I catch you doing something kind without being asked. When the jar is full, we'll do something special together." Eliza seems to be supportive of the 'team' idea, as it may lead to the mystery activity that much sooner. However, when her Mom sees through her staged displays of helpfulness, she retreats.

The good news is, each of you are helpers for the right reasons most of the time. I am doing my part to observe the kind deeds and dole out the fuzzies. Sometimes, I confess, that I cheat as I'll offer up a warm fuzzy if I am in immediate need of a favor.

As I've already mentioned, you operate differently from your sister. While earning fuzzies is something she thinks about often, it's not something you fixate over which is why this little experience meant the world to me.

Weighed down by stress, unrelated to the task at hand, I went to work that afternoon cleaning out the pantry. I was preparing to grocery shop. I thought it would be smart to rid the pantry and fridge of empty and/or unnecessary packaging to make room for what was to come.

Looking at the pile of broken down cardboard on my kitchen table, I pathetically begin to laugh. When we finish a box of oatmeal, as an example, the empty box sits in the pantry for an embarrassing amount of time. With the pile of boxes and other recyclables in hand, I head outside to throw them away in the can that's designated for recycling. You, Henry, notice me and the awkward stack of boxes.

"Hey Mom!" You call, as I make my way down the steps. "Wait up!" So I do. You continue:

"You look like you could use some help! Give me some of those boxes." Despite how it may appear, I have the situation under control. Even so, I'm incredibly touched by your desire to help. I try to contain my emotion as I hand you a few smashed cereal boxes. Together we throw them away and head back inside. Thanking you, I grab a warm fuzzy. Your surprised expression solidifies my belief that your offer to help wasn't motivated by said reward. The glowing warmth of my appreciation lingers. It takes a lot of restraint not to dump the whole bag of fuzzies into the jar. Your offer to help was simple but the impact was big. It felt good to hear the words,

"Let me help you." Your offer to help wasn't out of the ordinary, but the timing was sublime. At that moment you delivered an authentic, albeit simple, slice of charity to your weary Mother and it tasted so sweet.    
As you've embraced your new role as Kindergartener, I understand more clearly that a child doesn't have to be wired just like Eliza to excel in school. Because she is highly motivated to achieve, achieve, ACHIEVE, I worried that you might be more reluctant to put forth the extra effort, especially if you felt pressured.

I was wrong.
Our time to read and do homework is quickly becoming one of the highlights of my day. We visit uninterrupted as Lottie and Forrest nap. Sometimes we giggle too loudly when we're not supposed to be waking them up! I cheer for you as I listen to you successfully read a new sentence. I bite my tongue and remind myself to be patient when you need to take the time to remember something. It may take longer for you to make your way through a page of homework, but you are precise and careful as you want to do a good job. I am proud of you, Henry!  


Before I conclude my thoughts on the warm fuzzy jar, I have to say that as much as Eliza is motivated by a prize, her fuzzies are more often earned because she has been the solution to someone's problem. In other words, she is a peacemaker.

Saturday afternoon, Henry reappeared after spending most of his day riding bikes with friends. He wasn't around during lunch time and it would seem that sudden and intense growling of his tummy finally pulled him away from his playmates. He was likewise exhausted. Finding Andrew and me on the couch (watching conference), he tearfully announces,

"I'm so hungry. Make me a sandwich." Where was the 'please?' We weren't ignoring him, but neither one of us jumped up immediately. Henry loses it. Tears are falling as he asks again for a sandwich. Andrew is trying to make sense of Henry's emotions as I try to justify his behavior. All of this happens while we stay seated on the couch. Meanwhile, having observed the display herself, Eliza has gone to work in making Henry a sandwich.

"Here's your sandwich, Henry." Either she was super annoyed herself or acting out of compassion on behalf of the distraught brother her slacker parents weren't helping fast enough. As for Miss Lottie, she has likewise earned her fair share of fuzzies as she is so quick to soothe a fussy baby. The few minutes her kindness buys me is super appreciated.

I'm not sure how long the warm fuzzy jar will stick around. My track record isn't great when it comes to chore charts and other daily, let's track our progress, type things. It's my hope that it will help us recognize the happiness that comes from helping someone and express our appreciation to each other when someone helps us.


marie mays said...

Way to go Flegal children! Your Nana Marie loves you!

*Jess* said...

this was such a sweet post :) I love your children, Ali :)