Saturday, June 23, 2012

Babies are like dogs

Psalm 104:33-34 (NIV)

I will sing to the Lord all my life;
   I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
   as I rejoice in the Lord.
Babies are like dogs. Actually, toddlers are like dogs, and since I’m going to have to accept Charlie is a toddler now, I should update my similes. I could flesh out the comparison a fair amount, but for the sake of brevity, I’m thinking specifically of the way in which I talk to Charlie. (So I suppose in this case a toddler could be like a cat or a fish or a ferret or whatever pet you may have.)

Charlie understands a lot of basic things, but certainly not complete sentences. He says no words yet, though he can effectively communicate what he wants on occasion by pointing or dragging us somewhere. He’s very recently developed the ability to shake his head no if we offer him something he doesn’t really want. So while it’s frustrating to suggest eight different food options in a row and get rejected each time, at least we understand each other.

Yet I talk to Charlie a lot. Little words, long sentences, things I expect him to take in, things I just want to hear myself say, whatever comes to mind. Usually these conversations are when it’s just the two of us, lest someone overhear me and actually want to engage. Some of this stems from something I read when Jack was a baby, indicating children tend to pick up their verbal skills/vocabulary from fathers because the men are generally less prone to baby talk. And while that makes plenty of sense, I think for me it goes deeper.

I say things to Charlie I probably should say to all my kids, but for some reason I don’t, or at least not with the same frequency. Last Sunday, Father’s Day, I was carrying Charlie somewhere and said something to the effect of “I don’t think there’s anything better than being your dad.” And while I’m sure I hugged the older boys that day and told them I love them, which I try to do every day, I still find myself really opening up with the one who can’t process everything.

When I think deeper, I realize I communicate with Max in ways I don’t with Jack — nothing major, but the difference between the “little boy” world of a four-year-old and the way you connect with a second-grader. Jack’s got little interest in cutesy stuff, but Max still soaks it up. I’m plenty interested in Jack maturing regularly, so I don’t regret the way our relationship has evolved from the days when it was just the three of us. I guess the important thing is to find new and appropriate ways to communicate the same emotions.

There is something about the innocence of the very young, though, that draws me in. Or maybe it’s the humor in me offering up a few deep thoughts only to have them returned with a burp. No matter what child I’m talking to, mine or someone else’s, I try my best to speak to them the same way I speak to adults. I use smaller words (sometimes) but always try to use the same tone. I don’t see the point in having a different voice for children. I think they deserve my honesty.

That idea of innocence is what informs my toddler-pet analogy. I’m reminded of my dad’s father, about whom I cannot say enough good things. On many occasions, I heard him say to our family dog, “You’re all right, it’s the world that’s wrong.” I don’t think he was trying to be secretive, I’m sure he knew I was around. And I can’t specifically recall hearing him say it to a baby, though I don’t recall too many times seeing him in such a situation. Heaven only knows what he said to his dogs when neither I nor anyone else was around.

Regardless, I remember that phrase. I’ve said it at least once to each of my kids when they were too young to understand any of it. And I like to think I’m in some way continuing his legacy in this regard whenever I have the chance for a one-sided conversation with my baby, er, toddler. Maybe not. Maybe I’m just a guy who finds it easier to write than speak and easier to speak when I know I won’t get a response other than a loving gaze from my wonderful son.

I guess if I have something to say to Charlie, I ought to be able to say it to Jack or Max, and vice versa, for the most part. Letting the kids know they’re loved is becoming something of a recurring theme here, and that’s as it should be. They have to know, otherwise they’re not really loved, are they?

A prayer for June 23:

Lord, I thank you for today. I thank you for the gift of family and friends, who have made it so I never have to worry about being alone, and who give me comfort that someone, somewhere, will always be ready to help care for my children should the need arise. I pray for your support as I continue find ways to let my boys know what I feel for them, what I expect of them and how much I value them, both as individuals and how they enrich me and complete our family. May my meditations be pleasing to you, Lord, as I rejoice in you and your grace. Amen.

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