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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Art of Parenthood #1: Redirecting Kids' Attention


the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.
Working in an art gallery for many years, it surprised me to find this is the first definition for art on I assumed it would be the third or fourth definition. But the "collective fine arts" is actually in that spot. That may show the relative importance. While art applied to a canvas or sculpture can be beautiful and can enliven a home, office or any other space, art applied to life can make every day more meaningful and worth living.
I discovered this principle last night. I recently read an article by Thomas S. Monson called "Living the Abundant Life." Actually I read it once and then have been reminded of it by other people three times until it has become cemented in my scattered brain. In it he lists the ABCs of an abundant life.
A=Attitude. Not the kind you cop when you're mouthing off.
B=Believe. Believe in yourself and the goodness in others.
C=Courage. Courage to do what is right despite the costs.
He said it much better than that summary, of course. But I'd like to focus on the principle of attitude. After having this pounded into my head, I realized my attitude has been lacking in regards to family of late. Every bedtime has been drudgery I couldn't wait to be finished with. My attitude had sunk like a certain cruise ship of late, though my ship had fewer survivors. So two nights ago I decided to make bedtime special again. It wasn't an easy thing to do, I literally had to shift my paradigm to see it as a privilege to tell "make-up" stories to my children. 
I went in with my renewed attitude, where my daughter gave me the wrong kind of attitude after a nonexistent offense on my part. I struggled to keep a positive attitude. After a brief timeout on her own bed, I allowed her to join the fun resulting from my story, which looked a lot like this Calvin and Hobbes, but with two kids:

I soon fell asleep on my son's bed having depleted my own energy reserves. Nestled in each arm I had a tiny, loving child, though one was still awake and squirmy as all get out. Had I gone in with my recent normal attitude, I would have grudgingly made up a story and skedaddled as fast as I could. But instead I spent a solid hour or two just loving my children. Then my wife woke me up, demanding she be the one cuddled in bed without saying a word. I left my kids a happy man. My son politely asked me to move his sleeping sister to her own bed now that I was no longer there to act as a buffer zone. I politely declined because of some injuries I sustained in the fall which still have me down and out.

The next night when I got home, I discovered, or rather honed, the skill and art of redirecting attention. My daughter has been a jagged little pill of late. She's three, and makes sure you know how big 3 year olds are. This leads to some hugely negative attitudes from her. Anyway, she has a habit of loving her 7-month-old sister like a dump truck loves trash, i.e. with persistent crushing force. This can be problematic, as you might imagine. After stepping up to the parental plate to bat her away from her vulnerable sister umpteen times, I finally decided I had to be more forceful or sneaky in getting her away from the baby. But because of my attitude change, I chose the latter. 

"If you go onto your brother's bed with me, I'll let you tackle me!" I said like it'd be better than chocolate chip cotton candy. She dropped all pretense of attacking her sister and ran into the bedroom, where she and I spent a half hour wrestling, her giggling and delighted the whole time. It was another sublime parental experience I would have missed had I continued to bat her away from her sister like a 1.000 hitter in a batting cage.

I guess the lesson is that the best way to take something away from a child is to give them something even better. And if that thing happens to be love and attention, both the parent and the child win.

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