My New Mantra

Banjo is an excellent addition to the family. After four months, we know each other pretty well. In the beginning, he kept jumping at the door, only to want to do nothing except play when he got outside. He has learned to whine at the door when he needs to go potty. After playing outside, he runs to the door when called, drops his favorite ball, and runs inside for an animal cracker. He’s improving on his walks, although we did have to buy him a harness. Now that he is better on the leash, we are continuing our afterschool runs, stopping on the way to pick up Liam to walk home together.

A few months ago, I was in the kitchen with Mike, explaining that Banjo was “kind of a d**k” on the leash.” The following morning, Liam reminded Banjo  “don’t be a d**k” during our walk.

“Liam, that’s an adult word. You can’t say it.”

“I’m sorry, Mama. I didn’t know that. It won’t happen again.”

“Thank you, Buddy. I know you didn’t know.”

“You know, Mama, I know you’re an adult, but you don’t need to say so many adult words.”

Yup. That happened. I talk to my students about a “time and a place” for certain language when they say something inappropriate at school, explaining that my husband works in a shipyard and swears quite a bit at work yet still manages to watch his mouth in front of our son. Yet I was being reminded by my eight-year-old that I had been swearing too often, even if I think he is out of earshot, which can prove difficult in a 900 square foot house.

Mike found this interaction hilarious. “Don’t be a d**k” has taken on a life of its own between Mike and I. However, it’s been sticking in my mind at other times. During our Friday “day of errand errors,” the girl in front of me was blocking the entire condiment area. I stood there for a minute, slightly annoyed that our food was getting cold. I remembered our mantra and changed my demeanor. When the girl turned around, it was someone who attended the last high school where I taught. As we caught up for a few minutes, I was so thankful that I hadn’t begun tapping my feet or sighing. It was good to see her! A nice reminder that teachers make a difference long after students leave out classes.

At the store and it’s busier than usual? Don’t be a d**k.

Kid wants to talk to you about Pokemon while you would rather talk about anything else? Don’t be a d**k.

Traffic? Don’t be a d**k.

It’s been a few weeks since we started this voyage. I have to admit that it has definitely made me calmer.  I should also admit that, while I told Liam I would watch my use of “adult words,” I have only really been watching my use when he is within earshot. In my car, texting, or after he is asleep? All bets are off! Time and a place, right?

Liam asked if I would teach him to play tennis. I am not at all a tennis player, knowing enough to explain the basics of playing on a court and scoring, but it is never something I would express interest in doing on my own. However, because Liam wanted to learn, we bought two rackets and a bag of tennis balls on our last Target run. We experienced several failed attempts at home, the first because Banjo wanted to catch the balls and is much faster than us and the second when we tried playing in the street and spend more time chasing missed balls that managed to travel four houses up the street.

After driving to South County to drive this weekend’s half-marathon route, we stopped at a local high school tennis court to attempt to “play for real.” There were two other moms with their three kids riding bikes nearby. We went to the court. I let Liam practice serving, hitting the dozen balls across the court, heading to the other side, and repeating the process. One of the girls, who looked about Liam’s age, came and stood at the door of the opposite side of the tennis court. “I think she wants to play with you,” I told Liam.

“I wish we had an extra racket. We could let her play, but you and I are playing.”  I considered giving her my racket and letting her play, but Liam made it clear that he wanted me to teach him to serve. The window of time that Liam wants to play with me over his friends is closing; I’m going to take it while I can. Also, Liam learning new things is always tricky; he’s still learning the art of perseverance and isn’t always pleasant during these struggles. It is better not to invite anyone in to witness potential meltdowns.

The girl stooped down, took one of our balls, and walked away. Liam stopped and looked up at me, waiting to see my reaction because generating his own. “We have plenty,” I told him.

The girl’s mother watched the bit as well.  “Put that back.”

“They have a lot of them.”

“Put that back. Give them back their ball.”

She continued to play with the ball. The mother eventually giving up on getting her to return it, allowing her to take it with her. Liam continued to look to me to gauge appropriate reaction.  “We have plenty,” I repeated, “Let her have it.” He followed my lead without question.

Here’s the thing: it wasn’t at all about the tennis ball. The dozen tennis balls set me back $7.49, meaning the missing one cost sixty-two cents. This family was well-dressed and the children had nice bikes and helmets. Unless something recent happened, they could probably also give away a few tennis balls and not have it affect their quality of life. Through this girl stealing one of Liam’s tennis balls, I was able to teach him a few important lessons:

  1. Pick your battles.  Yes, what she did was wrong. But we didn’t need to turn it into a battle and ruin our afternoon.
  2. Do the right thing, even when others around you are not. Liam waited until we got into the car to talk about what happened. Even he noticed that her mother let her steal the ball. We had an honest talk about it.,”What will happen if she tries that at a store and gets into a lot of trouble? A parent’s job is to teach their kids right from wrong. It will catch up at some point.”
  3. You can be right without proving others wrong. This is such a huge lesson. You don’t always have to knock someone down to come out on top.
  4. Don’t be a d**k. This was worded to Liam as “Treat others as you want to be treated,” but they mean the same thing.

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