Do It Anyway

My 4 year old, Alistair, he’s got a mind of his own. I mean, I guess all kids his age do, but we’re encountering a kind of superhuman resistance in this little person that my wife and I have not found in our older son, so this is new territory for us.

He’s a kind kid. He always shares his fries.

And he’s creative, often making up songs all on his own to sing to himself while he does puzzles or plays with his action figures.

But he’s particular. Very particular. Everything has an order, a purpose, and he’s not happy when that order meets deviation. He’s got a rigid inflexibility that we, as parents, often see as a bit of a burden.

And then yesterday happened.

Last night, after a quick dinner out before choir practice, my son was methodically and slowly separating our food containers into “trash” and “recyclable,” all while standing over the appropriate receptacles.

He was there so long that a line was forming behind him as adults were waiting to dispose of their own trash. But he just kept going, slowly, painstakingly separating, like some kind of pint-sized Captain Planet.

“Hey buddy,” I said, “these people are waiting to throw things away, too.”

“I’m going fast as I can,” he told me, not even looking up.

At this point the people in line, confusing him for being a cute, innocent eco-warrior, started to chuckle.

And he heard. And this guy, well, he doesn’t suffer fools easily. He’s like his mom in that way.

And he stopped his work, turned and looked at a line of adults, four deep, and said loudly, forcefully, “It’s not funny to laugh at people doing the right thing!”

Tears in his eyes.

They stood in silence. Most went to another trash can.

I looked down at my little guy, wondering how we would ever get that little will to bend.

But this morning I have a different feeling. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to tell him, “Good job, Al.”

Because there will be plenty of people in his future who will laugh at him for doing the right thing, especially when it’s not popular. There’ll be plenty of people who, in their impatience, will encourage him to do a rush job, cut corners, or not put his heart into something.

I hope when he’s mocked for doing the right thing in his life, he does it anyway.

Do it anyway, Al.

I’m starting to think that little will is going to work in his favor, eventually.

And when the world laughs at you for being focused and giving your all to saving what’s important to you, do it anyway.

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Lessons on Life from Watching My Son Paint

220px-WatercoloursMy son, my five year old, is in love with water colors.

He sits at his little table, blank page before him, and carefully swirls his brush in the water dish like a chef carefully mixing the batter that will be baked into something good.

And then he dips it in his desired color, the edges of the paint container stained with a menagerie of other colors, and goes to town.

A swish. A splash. A dot.  It’s kind of like what I imagine watching Jackson Pollock paint would be like, but he does it with his tongue out, concentrating. He’s intense.

And then, poof, it’s done.

And I peer down on his page, and he’s only made a small dent on the white space, sometimes no bigger than three nickels worth of area. And yet, “I’m done!” is his proud pronouncement.

And onto the stack it goes. A fresh sheet of paper comes out, and creation begins again.

I’m consistently impressed with how much he lets the canvas speak around the paint.  Or, perhaps, it’s how loudly he lets a little paint speak for itself amidst the blank space surrounding it.

And I can’t tell if it’s because I’m his father or because there’s actually something there, but I think it’s stunning.  And not just the art, but the whole process.

The careful attention to detail.  Knowing when something is done, even when it doesn’t “look done” to any other eye.  Not being concerned that the paints bleed together, imagining that this kind of blending and imperfection is part of the process.

Watching him paint is a study in what it means to be OK with what you produce in life. To call it quits when you’re done.  To not worry about the details, or even the critics, and let something be fully itself.

It’s a study in both minimalism and maximum attention.  He’s not interested in filling the canvas. His concern is to watch and see when it’s completed.  This is at odds with so much in our world today that encourages us to pack every. damn. moment. full of meaning and activity and productivity.

But sometimes the canvas can speak.

A calendar full of unmarked space is not the marks of a boring life.

A few strokes of color are sometimes all that you need to be full.