My eldest son, Gregory, has always been a… difficult child. And by “difficult,” I mean that I’ve put a bottle of burn ointment in my wife’s purse to have at the ready when we’re at church, in case the priest starts throwing around any holy water.
I joke. Really, although he still presents some problems at school, he is now a predominantly well-behaved and easy child at home and elsewhere. But it wasn’t always that way.
My wife and I have both taught parenting in formal settings and, while that certainly does not make us Parents of the Year, it does mean that we are familiar with a few parenting techniques. Evidently, our methods worked with Gregory over time but, when he was younger, we were sometimes up against a wall. I distinctly remember a violent tantrum he had when he was four years old over something ridiculously trivial. As I stood outside his bedroom, containing his path of destruction, I looked at Sandra in frustration and said, “we’re way beyond parenting technique; it’s time to call in the exorcist!”
But, despite — or maybe because of — all the challenges Gregory has presented over the years, I have developed a special place for him in my affections. It is a place that has formed over years of sitting in school meetings and hearing the horrible things Gregory had done and, far more often, the horrible interpretations of innocuous or even amicable things he had done; because once a child is labeled “bad,” it is a label that follows him everywhere he goes. I have seen innocent acts typical of his age become laden with sociopathic interpretation. Knowing the wonderful child Gregory truly is, I’ve come to be his fiercest advocate and most devoted fan.
This is the kid who once, when I was bogged down with a cold, said, “when I’m sick, you and mom take good care of me, and it’s not fair that I can’t take care of you when you’re sick. I wish I could do something to make you feel better.” (“You just did,” I replied).
Yes, he most definitely has a special place in my heart. It has waxed through his endearing precocity. Recently, he was convinced that he was going to die because he believed he might have inadvertently consumed poison ivy oil through an endearingly complex and circuitous route starting with possible contact with the pernicious plant at the locus of his calf. When I assured him he was not going to die, he demanded, “how do you know? What studies have you read?” Another day, he turned to a visiting friend and said, “you’re still filled with child-like wonder, aren’t you?”
That special place has grown from driving down country roads, singing loudly along with Creedence Clearwater Revival, with Gregory accompanying from the back seat on air guitar and back-up vocals whenever he knows the words. Then, when I tried to entertain him by an exaggerated bopping of my head during a guitar solo, he warned me, “now Dad, don’t get too carried away.”
And, finally, that special place in my affections has developed from Gregory calling headphones “earmuffs,” and the preacher’s bench in our foyer the “creature’s bench,” and from those quiet moments when I am alone and he will find me and give me a hug and tells me he loves me.
Childhood passes in these discrete moments and, if we’re not careful, we might miss it altogether.
Today is Gregory’s 9th birthday and, today, I am thankful for him. As a parent, I take seriously my duty to encourage Gregory to be the best person he can be, but I also have the rare privilege of being made a better person each day by him. The few struggles richen the good moments, and teach me to be grateful for life’s tiny joys.