My kids' free will is a tough pill to swallow.
Tucker is in this new phase of experimenting with obedience. Okay, that in itself is not a new phase. But it's manifesting itself in a new way. He listens to directions and then carefully chooses which part he will ignore, just to await the response. A little cause and effect game, if you will.
I watch him with his preschool computer game. "Make the monkey jump to the left." But see, if the monkey jumps left, the game just continues with more left and right practice. But if he jumps the wrong way, he falls into the water with a big splash. And isn't that just more interesting?
In general, he has learned that games, tasks, and directions are far more interesting when he does it slightly the wrong way. He knows the right answer, and he's bored with that. What else ya' got?
He's toying with directions and consequences, and at home it ranges from merely annoying, clever and creative, or perhaps punishable, depending on the offense. But now he's trying it at speech therapy, which is a whole new ball game.
"Tucker, touch the green five." He touches the red four.
"Tucker, find your name on the table." He knows where it is, but he strolls around the room looking to see if Miss Jill perhaps meant another table that is always otherwise off limits.
Oh, Tucker, come on. It's one thing to be clever or even slightly annoying with this little game at home. But when your speech therapist now thinks you're regressing because you can't follow two-step directions? When your silly response gives her no choice but to conclude that you don't understand? It's one thing when it's an experiment with your computer game. It's another when it is a deceptive reflection of how smart you are, kiddo.
We have talked - and TALKED - about obeying the first time, listening well, following directions, and doing his best. But when it comes down to it, he's in charge of his decision in the moment, and I'm not there to say, "Tuck, straighten up. You know what you're supposed to do."
That dang-blasted free will.
And I know we're at the very beginning of the journey, since nearly all of his choices from here forward will belong to him, for better or for worse, and will thereby let others deduce what they choose by his behavior. And that's a hard pill to swallow . . . and a reminder that he is his own person. I am responsible - to a point. After that? Yours to choose, my Tucker Boy.
And in all of this mental parenting, I am reminded of my own choices as I was growing up.
Like, when I went through high school only halfway applying myself, because I was busying having fun and learning more about people than chemistry, algebra 2, and democracy. Sure, I could have been a 4.0, A+ student. I just didn't care to be.
And like, oh say, when I went to a slumber party the night before my ACT test. I stayed up too late, and I fell asleep during the science portion of the test.
Or, when I went away to college (I got accepted, despite the ACT mishap), and told my parents I felt fine with B's. "B's are good," I declared. Because I didn't want to put forth more than I had to.
I'm pretty sure I could list a few other choices I made, all of which were deceptive reflections of how smart I really am.
What goes around comes around. And I'm learning afresh the challenges of parenting with wisdom, of separating my identity from my child's, and of letting him be whom he chooses to be.
He's four. I'm pretty sure this is the first mile in a long, long path of the same lesson for years to come.