Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Can We Talk?

Perhaps it's the nature of my field that drives me to urge my kids to talk about everything. I suppose it could be the pendulum swinging back from the way I was raised, which followed the philosophy of, "Unless the topic is the weather, DON'T TALK ABOUT IT AT ALL." Or maybe it's just what I am: one of those horrible people that insists we lay everything on the table, ask the questions and get the answers.

Ben is not averse to thinking things through, and his vocabulary rocks. In fact, I've had some pretty interesting conversations with him on a variety of topics. But he also has this little quirk: if there's something he doesn't understand or know how to do, rather than ask about it, he just avoids all situations that may bring his shortcoming to light. And he clams up.

Here's an example: Ben loves fuzzy things. If he could wrap himself in a mink bodysuit, he would wear it day and night, all week long. Knowing his passion for plush, I bought him a super-fuzzy robe this winter. It's black with white skulls and crossbones (must be a boy thing), deep, wide pockets, and both an inside and outside belt to keep him securely swathed in luxury and warmth. 

When I presented it to Ben, he said 'thanks' and put it aside. At shower time, I asked if he wanted to dry off and put on his new robe. He said no, so I hung it in his room. On the next chilly weekend morning, when he shivered and said he was cold, I suggested he put the robe on. 

"It's like a blanket with sleeves!" I said in my best infomercial voice.

"NO!" he said. "I don't want it!"

After a few more episodes like this, I finally got Ben to admit he would never wear the robe. He suggested I just give it away. I was shocked, then hurt, then started thinking about who might fit into the robe instead. 

Then I remembered who I was dealing with.

"Ben, can you tell me what it is about the robe that you don't like?"

"I just don't like it."

"Is it not soft enough?" 

"No, it's super-soft."

"Is it the color? Do the skulls and crossbones creep you out?" (I was sure this was it).

"No, it's cool."

"Then can you tell me why you don't like it? I won't be upset," I assured him. "I just want to know so I don't buy you something else you don't like that's the same."

"I just... it's too hard to tie!" he blurted out. 

I suggested we do a little lesson because I know those double belts can be tricky. First we did the inside, to close it up. Then we did the outside in a nice, simple tie to keep him securely snuggled. Then he tried it himself. He was hooked. 

Tonight, as Ben was putting his robe on after his shower (and purring with joy at its softness), I commented on how close we had come to giving it away, all because of a misunderstanding. I decided to use this as a teachable moment about why it's important to talk about things.

"Wow, remember we almost gave this robe away just because you didn't know how to tie the belt?"

"Yeah! Close one!"

"I know! So it just goes to show you that any time you have a problem, communication is the best way to resolve it, right?" 

At this point, I imagine the hairs on the back of Ben's neck stood up, alerting him to a lecture brewing.

"Any problem can  be solved if you just talk about..."

"I still don't have a million dollars. Let's talk about that," he deadpanned.

Mission accomplished: lecture averted. I was laughing too hard to go on. Ben may hate to ask for help, but he knows me well. And he got my point.

I don't think this episode will turn him into a Chatty Cathy, but I do hope that conversations like this will eventually make him less reluctant to talk about things. Hopefully before he starts dating.

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