There are no shortage of things to work on in this grand life, no limits to areas in need of refinement. Of late, for me? Communication. In specific? Tongue-holding.
It came as a surprise to me to find that my go-to method of parenting communication thus far has been The Lecturer. To talk things through until the horse is dead and gone, until the final note nailed. I’ve never been much of a verbal processor, so trust me when I say that my unofficial tendency to pummel a small child with big words is just as puzzling to me as it likely is to you.
Once, when Bee was 3 and we were road tripping down south for the winter, I launched into a verbal monologue on eye contact and its importance, on its kindness, on how it shows someone else that you’re listening even if you’re not entirely understanding, like remember how it feels when uncle Al kneels down to meet your eyes? and wouldn’t you know it, the girl fell asleep midway through my point and Ken laughed all the way to Georgia.
It seems harmless until the lecture isn’t about eye contact, but instead, is a far weightier conversation – one laden with discipline, where word after word holds the careful ability to squelch a spirit entirely.
And so, a small reminder for myself, courtesy of this simple trick my friend’s mother shared with me:
Say what you see.
And sometimes, only that.
Last night, Bernie began, as he does every night around 5pm, hurling himself into the pantry door in want of food (he is ever subtle). The official feeding-of-the-dogs is Bee’s chore, something she volunteered for last summer in order to earn the three (now two, R.I.P. Bob) fish swimming happily on her bedroom dresser. But Bee was lost in an art project, deaf to Bernie’s propelling entirely, and everything within me wanted to address the issue of responsibility and follow-through, the importance of keeping commitments (yes, I, too, recognize the insanity of expecting work ethic mastery at the ripe age of 5). Instead, I said only this:
I see Bernie’s ready for dinner.
The paintbrush went down, and five minutes later, the dogs were fed and she was back to her creation, adding jellyfish to the ocean floor.
I’m finding since that this micro-mantra, this ‘Say what you see’ is applicable in nearly any scenario – in offering (and receiving) feedback, in sharing compliments, in encouraging another. Just last week I scrawled a list of helpful things I witnessed Ken doing – for us, for others – and tucked it into a Valentine taped to the garage door. There it was in black and white: every little thing from taxes to trash duty. He felt appreciated. He felt seen.
I’ve been practicing the art all around town – from noticing my barista’s new cheek color (sidenote: it was this and it looked incredible) to offering a hand to the grandfather in the grocery.
Sure, we can say what we think. We can say what we know to be true, and why. We can spend our days lecturing our kids, defending our convictions to others, attempting to talk everyone else into understanding things precisely the way we understand them.
But sometimes, often times, we need only say what we see.
And to listen – carefully, intently – to what we don’t.
p.s. These are a series of small steps that will (hopefully) provide one giant leap to greater things. Not for mankind, but for me, and perhaps for you, which will always be good enough in my book. More here.