The other night I was eating dinner with my family, including all of my brother’s children. Matthew, one of the middle kids, was trying to decide what prize he wanted after finishing his meal. The restaurant where we ate had a treasure chest of small prizes for kids. It is a time honored tradition at the joint. Kids go fishing for a plastic fish a waterless, shallow well. They hook a plastic fish with a small rod. Then, they turn in the fish and the reel for a prize. My brother’s kids love it, even the nine year old plays along.
Well, Matthew couldn’t decide what he wanted. He picked up every pencil, ring, sticker, plastic frog, mini game and notepad in the treasure chest. Finally, he decided that he wanted a notepad with butterflies on the front. Immediately, my macho guy radar went off, and I tried to encourage him to pick something else. I said something along the lines of other prizes being more fitting for boys.
The notepad just looked kind of girly to me. A women paying at the register turned to me and said, “I don’t see anything wrong with his ion. He ought to take what he wants. There’s nothing feminine about what he picked.”
I gave the women a look that told her she should pay and go home. But I couldn’t help but think she was kind of right. I turned to Matthew and said if that is what he wants then that’s fine with me. I told him that butterflies are beautiful creatures. He seemed happy with my statements and ran to shop his parents what he had won.
My butterfly notepad experience showed me a lot. First, I learned that I need to be careful what I say. My words can very easily damage the sometimes frail ego of my nephews and niece. While I don’t want to every lie to them or simply tell them what they want to hear, I should speak words of life. I need to realize the distinct personality of each child, and I should affirm those differences.
Matthew sometimes loves to do very macho things. He will take risks where his older brother will not. He has a strong sense of justice and likes to do guy things with his dad. He is very creative and loves to make up wild stories. He will sometimes act them out or draw them. Other times, he tends to gravitate to things that may upset my macho values. These things are almost never wrong. He has a big heart for animals and likes toys that allow him to be creative. He seldom uses a toy as originally designed by the manufacturer. He almost always turns it into something else. And that’s…OK.
The whole butterfly notebook episode has shown me that maybe I am the one with the problem. Boy, you sure can learn a lot from a kid.