The Way and the What



For two days in a row this week I have been taken to work by my family. As one hand is  warmed by my travel mug full of coffee, my other hand has been engaged in helping kids up into the car and buckling them into car seats. (Without practice this is not a one-handed affair.)

We only have one car. At times this is an inconvenience, but the silver lining is that it affords us just a little more time together as they shuttle me to and from work on the days they need the car at home.

My favorite part of the trip is when we arrive in the parking lot, and as Karen and I switch drivers, I stop at each of the kids’ doors and get a goodbye kiss before heading into the demands of the agenda.

But yesterday Ellis was feeling a little obstinate. (Not unusual.) I leaned in for a kiss and she blithely turned her face away. I drew back for a moment considering her. She looked up at me. I leaned in again. The same.

“Ellis, may I have a kiss please?”

“Hmm?” A long, drawn-out question in the form of a single sound.

“You heard me. May I have a kiss?”

“Hmm?” Cooing. Innocent as a dove.

I tried again. This time, as I got close, she pulled her chin back into her collarbone and smiled, looking sideways at Karen in the front seat. Yes, she knew exactly what she was doing. We’re both stubborn. I kept at it, and she kept avoiding it. With sternness and persistence I eventually got my kiss, a mild and mushy peck, and we parted with both of us more than a little frustrated.

Today, I opened her door, we looked at each other, and I braced myself for another stand-off. Then she closed her eyes, put her lips together, and pushed them out like a little fish. I gave her a kiss. And then we both just smiled at one another for a moment. She giggled. And I was off to work.

Two days. Two ways of giving the same gift. But on the second day the way matched the what.

Today I read this from 2 Corinthians 9: Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

The second kiss was a response to what Ellis knows of me, of what she has received from me, of what she wanted to give to me. And it meant far more to me.

And I’ve been asking myself this question: What is the manner in which I give? Does the way I give match the what I give?

Learning Who She Is

A few weeks ago I had a knock-down drag-out fight with my daughter.

She's 16-months-old.

It started when Karen removed her near-empty cup of goldfish crackers from her hand so that she could get ready for bed. Ellis lost it, just completely lost it. It wasn't one of those "I'm devastated that just happened" kind of cries. It was a "How dare you" kind of cry. A mad cry. A tantrum.

Tantrums don't work in our house.

I sat her down on the end of the twin bed in her room, and once she had calmed I explained that if she could say "please" she could get down and, perhaps, even have another goldfish cracker or two.

Now, I know this sounds ridiculous. She's 16-months-old, so she's not going to bat her eyes and say, "Please, Daddy, may I have my goldfish back?" But before you judge, the girl does know sign language. For at least four months now she's been able to sign the word "please" just fine when it means getting what she wants. But not that night. No, on that night you would have thought I was some kind of crazed circus clown with the look she gave me each time I tried to "remind" her how to sign the word. She was having none of it. I upped the ante.

I took away Bear-Bear. She's had him since the day she was born, and they're rarely separated. This was meltdown number two. Once again, I explained that she could get down, she could have goldfish crackers, and she could have Bear-Bear if she would just please say please. With tears streaming down her face she'd reach out for her bear, and when I'd say, "Say please, Ellis" she'd clasp her hands together, pin her elbows to her sides, and stare off to her right as if neither I nor Bear-Bear had ever existed. She was doing all she could to make sure I didn't interpret any momentary movement of her hand or arm as a concession to my demand.

This went on for an hour and a half. Finally, Karen and I decided she had to go to bed, but the war wasn't over. We removed her favorite blanket from her crib, and she went to bed without her bear. This had never happened before.

She woke up four times that night, something she never does. Each time she woke crying I went in with her bear and her blanket. She'd desperately reach for them until I repeated the request she'd already heard a million times. No dice.

The next morning negotiations were still at a standstill until finally, 45 minutes after she'd woken up—and after my fifth visit to her room to re-iterate my stipulations—she relented. With the weakest and quickest was-that-or-wasn't-that motion of the hand the embargo was lifted and she got her bear, her blanket, her breakfast, and a whole lot of hugs and twirls around the room. Moments later it was as if nothing had happened.

In all, the whole thing lasted thirteen-and-a-half hours.

I think we can safely say that she's testing the boundaries. And that's a good thing, really. Everyday, as she pokes at the fences of what she knew yesterday—wandering a bit further, running a bit faster, shouting a bit louder—she's making discoveries, learning what she's capable of.

She's learning she's beautiful. And she's learning she thinks she's even more beautiful when she wears her butterfly shirt. She's learning she loves to play tag. And she's learning that she loves it less when she's the one everyone is running from. She's learning that she finds her brother unbearably funny. And she's learning that she'll need to stand her ground with him now and then.

She's learning who she is. But perhaps more importantly, she's learning who she's not. She's learning she's not the one in charge.

And neither am I. Neither are we.