Saturday, February 25, 2012

Compliment one, insult the other — Dad makes amends

I hurt my son's feelings tonight. I knew I had. I didn't know it consciously, but I knew it.

We were driving home from dinner at TGI Friday's, all five of us in the minivan, and I was telling everyone how helpful Josh had been the last couple of days. Josh, the oldest, has been doing little things to help, like making pancakes, letting the dog in or out, cleaning up toys or carrying things from one floor of the house to another. Yesterday, because I was bored, I cut down a damaged tree, chopped it into logs, hauled it out of the woods, split it and stacked it. Near the end of the process, I dragged the older boys outside to help haul and stack.

"Josh, you've been so helpful," I said. "And yesterday with the firewood, you were my best helper."

The car was totally dark. Colin was in the second row, and the older two were in the back row. There was a blue glow from the corner of the car where Matthew was sitting, head down, staring at his Nintendo DS game console. He doesn't play a lot of video games, but for some reason he got hooked on 'Super Mario' today, and he played for about five hours, off and on, whenever he got a chance.

As soon as I called Josh "the best helper," my eyes darted to the rear-view mirror, and I saw Matthew's head flick up quickly, then back down. He went back to playing and I went back to driving.

We arrived back home, unloaded the leftover food, the coats, the shoes, the bags, the boys and ourselves, and almost everyone went upstairs to get ready for bed. Matthew stayed downstairs playing Nintendo by himself. I was getting out pajamas and closing curtains when I felt an urge to find my 5-year-old. But as I turned around, he walked into the room and flopped down on his bed. We were alone in the room.

I lay down beside him and said, "Tell me about the game. Are you getting far?"

"It was so weird," Matthew said. "I beat the king and got to the next level, but then it put me back at the lower level."

I told him I'd check it out the next day to see if we could figure out what was happening, then I wrapped my arm around him and said, "You know I love you, right?" I felt his head nod underneath my arm, then he said, "It hurt my feelings when you said Josh was your best helper."

Knife to the heart, twist, remove, stab again.

"I'm sorry I hurt your feelings," I said. "I didn't mean to. It's just that Josh was a great helper yesterday, and well, you went and made mud castles ... But that's okay. That's what a boy is supposed to do. And that's what you love doing. Making mud castles is more fun than carrying firewood, so I understand. I love you, and you've always been a great helper. I'm sorry I hurt your feelings."

We lay on the bed and talked some more, and I talked a smile back onto his face. He went to bed happy.

Thinking back on it, I realize how much Matthew means to this family. Because of his personality, Josh commands a lot of attention. Because of his needs, Colin commands a lot of attention. Matthew is so damn easy, he gets a lot less attention, and we sometimes take that for granted. Just by being himself, Matthew's a great helper. I should tell him that more often.

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