Please, thank you, you’re welcome. Pretty basic stuff in our society. At least I thought so. That was my first head’s up that Ben was a unique kid in more ways than one. He just wasn’t catching it. He was obviously smart. But even with positive reinforcement, my two and a half-year-old wasn’t getting the please and thank you thing.
He was noticeably generous with other kids and was not greedy, grabby or inconsiderate. It was just that basic manners made no sense to him. And it didn’t change at three, five, seven, or nine years of age either.
When he was six, Tim, a man from our neighborhood, came to the door collecting for the cancer society. He explained that a lot of people were waiting for a cure, and our donation could help. Ben disappeared for a minute and came back with ten dollars to donate. Although surprised, I thought it was great that at his age, he wanted to donate to a charity using his allowance.
Tim smiled ear to ear, and said “Thanks, Ben.” Ben looked puzzled, turned to me and whispered, “But that’s his job. Why did he say thanks?”
Fathering Ben has taught me plenty about patience and priorities. Here are five things I’ve learned through this incredible experience of being Ben’s dad.
1. What to do when I feel anger. Ben never seems to be in a hurry. He lives his life like he has all the time in the world. As a dad, I want Ben to be on time for practices, music lessons, and school. In the past, I could feel myself getting angry when it would take twelve minutes to put on his socks, forty-five minutes to eat breakfast and over two hours to take a shower.
One day I just decided to change my attitude about these things. I asked myself, “do I love him or not?” I knew the answer was a definite yes, so I decided every time I felt anger coming on as a result of ‘Ben stuff,’ I’d just walk over and give him a hug. Weird, I know, but it worked. I thought about how much I loved him, and how I could help him be on time in logical ways that made sense to him. It worked.
2. How to be more logical. Ben has a kind of logic I just wasn’t born with. I’ve now accepted that he can help me work through challenges that require logic. And many do. So now I talk stuff over with him, and he gives me short, succinct solutions that almost always make perfect logical sense. Getting Ben’s input helps me weigh the pros and cons of how to deal with the conflict.
3. How to chunk tasks. Ben thinks in steps or chunks. For example, I might ask him to, “take this towel upstairs, brush your teeth, get dressed and bring down the dirty laundry. Oh and don’t forget to turn off the lights.”
I might as well be speaking a foreign language because this would be completely overwhelming for him. If I ask him to do one or two things at a time, I know they’ll get done, or a good alternative is to break things down into more logical steps. I now realize breaking tasks down benefits me in my work. As a result, projects don’t seem so overwhelming, and I’m able to mark them off my to-do list a lot sooner.
4. How to be happy in the moment. I used to think Ben was happy and content just because he was a kid. Now I realize he has a natural kind of mindfulness. That’s why transitions are hard. Ben asks himself, “Why should I change what I’m doing when I’m totally enjoying the moment?”
In school, the schedule dictates you change activities when the bell rings. That makes no logical sense to Ben. It makes sense to change activities when you get bored, hungry or need to go to the bathroom. This logic has changed the way I think too. As a result, I’m way more content and feel a sense of calm a lot more of the time.
5. How to be more sensitive to others. You see for Ben, getting his feet wet is a big deal. Tags in shirts are an abomination. The more I accept that these are big issues for him, the better I am at accepting other people’s differences. I mean we’re all different, so who am I to judge whether those differences make sense or not?
Now Ben’s 14 and he’s accepted that he’s on a planet with a race of people who believe in certain social protocols like saying please, thank you and you’re welcome. So he’s decided to humor me most of the time with a you’re welcome, even if he still believes it makes no sense.
Photo: Flickr/ Roberto Trombetta