How old is your son? Four? Five? He oozes a bright curiosity that reminds me of my own.
The questions are exasperating. Believe me, I know. You think they won't end. That there's no finale to the answering. That nothing can ever happen where he won't demand "Why??!!"
I'm here to tell you, it does end. And when it does, your heart will shudder and you'll find yourself begging him to talk to you, to ask questions, to wonder about the world beyond Minecraft, to hug you, to say "I love you, too."
When did you stop asking questions? When did you stop viewing the world like a giant floating ball of opportunity and excitement? When did you stop looking at the sky from the perspective of a dandelion or imagine yourself a revving engine in the middle of the frozen foods aisle? Can you remember how big the world was? What it was like to always have to look up? How airplanes were superheros and how sure you were that you'd find dinosaur bones in the sandbox? How, by growing up, you stopped fully living?
"Juice boxes? Juice boxes? Why do you want to buy juice boxes???" He was so darling, standing right beside me, his chin resting on the lip of the counter, his finger tapping the juice on the conveyer on it's way to the cashier.
"My kids like juice boxes for school," I told him. "Do you like juice boxes?"
"Oh yes!" he said, grinning.
Until you yelled at him. Loud enough for them to hear you in the men's department. "Get back here! Don't be rude!"
His little head fell like a petal from a flower.
There are only so many pieces of a child you can break before the world that once was vibrant becomes gray. There are only so many times you can strike him with words before he strikes back with his own.
The most important job you have is teaching him what it means to be a man. You are his example. Boys want to be like their father. Be the man you want him to be. Even if you've had a hard day. Even if you're stretched to the end of yourself. Gentleness speaks a language much louder than anger.
I am far from perfect. I have let bad days inform my parenting. I have made poor choices and caused hurts that took much more than a band-aid hug to heal. I have learned hard lessons. I have marched my children from this very same Walmart, steam pouring from my ears, because one son kicked his sandal on top of the produce rack - marched them right out, him with one barefoot - so I could unleash my 'Are you kidding me???!!!" in the privacy of our station wagon. I have spoken too quickly, reacted too harshly, hated myself for the way my anger hurt them. I am writing this letter as much for myself as I am for you.
Raising children is a forever vocation, an eternal education, the greatest gift and the highest hurdle. We parents won't ever be perfect - but if we're trying, if we're loving through our trying, if we're humble, quick to apologize, slow to anger, generous with our praise and consistent with constructive discipline, we will raise up sons and daughters - men and women - who address the world with a vibrancy of character that we can be proud of.
Children are like flowers. Tend to them and they will grow into something beautiful. Step on them and they will wither.