Our Children as Teachers

My youngest son is a passionate wanter. He wants things deeply and he wants them NOW. I've encouraged him to keep that passion alive even if he can't get it all now, and even if the frustration of going without is painful. I want him always to be able to pursue his dreams--and how can a person do that if he's given up on or lost track of what he wants?

I remember the time he really upped the ante. We were in the car on our way out of town, when he announced that he wanted something to drink from home. I said that we would soon be at our picnic where there would be plenty to drink. But no, he wanted that particular drink from home. "I want it, and I'm going to get it," he said. I told him that he could certainly get it as soon as we got back that evening. "No!" he stormed. "I want it and I'm going to get it now!" I was taken aback. He's a bright, observant, generally flexible child, and I couldn't understand how he could take such a patently illogical position. There was clearly no way that he could get it now, yet reason had no impact on him; he wouldn't budge his position an inch.

With no compromise possible, he lost out altogether, but I was mystified and intrigued. That determination to get what he wanted--no matter how unattainable--and to get it now, stuck in my mind.

I was thinking aloud with a friend not long after that about some things that give me trouble in my adult life--noticing how long it took me to figure out what I wanted, and how hopeless I felt about getting it. (I'm talking here about real soul and spirit and life-work wants, not all the wants that are generated by a consumption-driven society--another story entirely.) I could imagine the small child in me trying to negotiate a world where the adults loomed large and their interests held sway with the inexorable force of the tides, massive and regardless of my childish wishes.

Reflecting on my own childhood, my son's litany came to mind--and I began to understand it a little more. "I know what I want"--hard at times, but certainly desirable, and possible if I put in enough time and energy to figure it out. "I want it now"--completely logical; now is the moment in which I'm doing the wanting, and anyhow, what reason is there to wait? "I'm going to get it"--presumptuous and unrealistic at first glance, but if I don't take that position, what chance in the world do I have? "I'm going to get it now"--that was the hardest. You just don't get everything you want, and certainly not right now. But then I thought, the alternative to now is later, and later has a nasty habit of never arriving. I had a new respect for his insistence on now--and all of a sudden I saw the modification that would make it work for me. "I know what I want. I want it now. I'm going to get it. And I'm going to start getting it NOW!"

I have a powerful new tool in my toolbox--a strong antidote to confusion, hopelessness, and discouragement--thanks to my stubborn, illogical, passionate, difficult, determined, confident, and wonderful son.