Usually when our four-year-old, Liz, wakes up in the morning, she calls “Daddy!” and then the one-year-old (Paul) and I go “searching” for her. Paul and I are always the first up, and we start our mornings in the kitchen getting breakfast going.
But when Liz calls, we lay aside pots and pans and go “searching.” I carry Paul in my arms and tromp up the stairs as loudly as possible, calling in a sing-song voice: “Liz! Is there a Liz up here? I thought I heard a Liz!”
When we get to the top of the stairs and turn into her room I continue, “I don’t see her! Where could Liz be! All I see is a big lump of blankets!” That is because Liz has pulled the covers over her head and curled up in a ball.
Paul and I sit on the bed and start thumping the blankets all around the lump, working our way inward from the edge, all the while declaiming loudly: “Where is Liz? I wonder where she could be? Liz! Liz! Has anyone seen Liz!”
At last, when all the rest of the bed has been vigorously thumped, I say, “We’ve checked everywhere, the only thing left is this lump of blankets . . .” and then I peel the covers back . . . and voila! Paul yells in triumph: “There she is!” and we all start laughing.
It’s a fun way to start our mornings.
But then came a dark and snowy morning in the middle of an icy winter when things unfolded in a very different, and ominous, way.
Liz didn’t call from her room. Paul and I were working in the kitchen when Liz suddenly appeared on her own, standing at the kitchen door and looking serious.
“Dad,” she said. “I need to talk to you.”
“Ok,” I said, drying my hands on a dishtowel.
“I have a question to ask you,” Liz said.
Uh-oh. I sometimes dread these questions. Like the time I went to wake her when she was still sleeping, and when I jiggled her arm she opened her eyes, looked at me, and the first words out of her mouth were: “What language did Adam and Eve speak?” How’s that for a “good morning!” from your four-year-old.
And now here was Liz again on another morning with another question.
I braced myself.
“Alright,” I said. “What’s your question?”
“Dad,” she said, “I’m starting a club. Do you want to be in it? So far Pooh and I are the only members.” (She’d slept with Winnie the Pooh during the night.)
Ahhh, a sigh of relief.
“Yes,” I answered with a smile, “I’d love to be in your club.”
“Here,” she said, handing me a piece of paper and a crayon. “Write down your letter.” (Which means the letter my name starts with.) I wrote down “my letter” and handed the paper and crayon back to Liz.
So now I’m in a private club with Winnie the Pooh—not a bad way to start to a cold, snowy morning.
Later, though, creeping formalism began to overtake the club. Mom and sister Stephanie (aged three) were admitted to our august membership, and Liz then brought me a new list and required that I write my full name as well as the nickname by which I’d like to known. But the formalism was tempered with mercy: Liz also informed me that little brother Paul could join the club, and that “it’s ok if he breaks the rules, because it’s hard for babies to follow rules.”
“Rules?” I asked. “What are the rules?”
“You have to hold hands with your partner and have fun.”
Partners were assigned, and it turned out that Liz and I were partners. So apparently Paul is now the only one in the family allowed to go about empty-handed and grumpy.
Fielding questions from my kids has taught me to heed the advice of Scripture: “Know this, my dear brothers: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak . . .” Jas, 1, 19. And I’ve found that my best answers generally come after I’ve given my thoughts a little time to percolate, or as the Bible tells us: “Set a guard, Lord, before my mouth, a gatekeeper at my lips.” Ps 141, 3.
And then when I finally venture an answer, I’ve found that less is generally more, per the Bible: “Be brief, but say much in those few words . . .” Sir 32, 8. And when all else fails, my great back-up: “I don’t know”—or as Scripture tells us: “Even a fool, if he keeps silent, is considered wise; if he closes his lips, intelligent.” Prov 17, 28.
A great example was when I got the classic question: “Where do babies come from?” My answer was short and sweet: “From God.” Which is not only true, but also completely satisfied my four-year-old. And at this age, I don’t think that anything more would have been very intelligible to her anyway; I could have talked a lot more and ended up conveying a lot less. The short version even led to a discussion about the fact that God makes everything that is, that God even made Liz, and God made Liz intentionally, just the way He wanted her to be.
Not that I planned any of that, but it’s always better to be lucky than good! Like when I got to join an exclusive club with Pooh bear, it was one of the unintended blessings that rewards practitioners of spare speech!
Copyright 2014, Jake Frost