I find myself biting my tongue often these days. With my almost-fifth-grader, I've determined that the things I don't say are at least as important as those I do.
Life is still pretty simple for a ten-year-old boy, but I can see kernels of the complications to come. My primary job is to listen when he wants to talk. I do my best not to dismiss what he's saying, to oversimplify, or to make things more complicated than they really are. I try to take what he says about where he is today and leave it at that.
Sometimes it's hard. When your son comes home and tells you that the girls who are usually really nice and so fun to hang out with can be really annoying and were driving him crazy and threw pond scum on his favorite T-shirt...well, it's hard not to laugh a little. It's even harder to refrain from suggesting that maybe those girls like him--as in, like-like him--a little bit.
But to say that would be both oversimplifying and unnecessarily complicating matters. They are kids. They are friends. They enjoy each other's company. Their thoughts and feelings about the opposite sex are embryonic. To tease my son that one of the girls likes him would only make him overthink the relationship and the way he behaves. So I keep my opinions to myself.
Yesterday, my son said he was a little bit sad. Although they still had four days left in the school year, one of the girls in his class was leaving, and people had been making a fuss about saying goodbye to her.
Only after some follow-up questions did I learn that the girl isn't moving away or transferring to another school. She is going on vacation. Her family's early vacation means that she'll miss the last few days of the school year, but she'll be back in a few weeks. She will return to school in the fall. She will still live a mile and a half away from us.
My gut reaction was to remind him of these facts. To oversimplify. To tell him there was nothing to be sad about. But I didn't.
I listened. I can't tell him how to feel, and I can't tell him that his feelings aren't valid.
The more I thought about our conversation, I realized just how wrong I would have been to dismiss his sadness. The end of a good thing is sad.
It's been a good fourth grade year with a great group of kids. This precise group of kids will never again be a unit. They will never again be this age. They will never again share this particular experience. While fifth grade may be even better, it's natural to mourn the loss of the year that was.
I'm glad that I have the kind of kid who recognizes these things and still is willing to talk about them. I'm grateful that I took the time to listen instead of react. I gave the response he needed, but doing so caused me to look at it from his perspective.
The kid was right. It is a little bit sad. I'm glad he reminded me.