On Friday I took the boys for flu shots. They squabbled in the car on the way to the doctor, just like old times, just like all times, and I silenced them by asking, "How do you think it feels for me to listen to this?," which is more or less what I've voiced in similar circumstances for the last ten years, not that it's done any good.
It is a bid for empathy, for getting outside yourself and understanding the effects your actions have on others, and just now I've realized that it is the tool in my parenting toolbox that I have reached for most consistently. I've always said that kindness is what I wanted to teach my children above all else.
Of course they're still not kind to each other. Usually. Unless one of them is sick or hurt. But I never claimed I could perform miracles. I hope at least that they show empathy in their daily lives away from me and each other.
Back to the flu shots: We arrived at the pediatrician. I was annoyed from the twenty minutes of sniping that I'd been forced to endure. (Today I am 47 years old! I don't have time to waste!) They slouched in their chairs, unable to contain teen elbows, hands, and feet. All of a sudden they looked so large, both of them - even the younger one! - next to all the babies and preschoolers in the room, and I smiled, because they both are and aren't large, and I see all of their ages before me when I look at them. But to an observer they are big. Especially so to a new parent, I am sure.
A nurse opened up the door to the inner office to release a boy who'd just been seen, and I laughed to discover that it was a boy who’d been in my classroom for two years. With characteristic solemnity he came over to me to tell me all about the flu shot he'd just received, and I motioned to my own sons and informed him that they too were about to get their flu shots. He walked over to them in his footie pajamas (it being Halloween) and, formally shaking their hands, told them that the flu shot wasn't so bad at all, that they would do fine when their turns came.
And at this accidental collision of my work and home life, at the sweet way my boys, who've undergone plenty of flu shots and understand perfectly well that they're "not so bad," nodded at this boy and affirmed his words, I felt the prick of tears and had to swallow hard a few times to stem their release.
Because I found I could see not only my children's selves, baby to preschooler to adolescent to adult, sitting so awkwardly in the pediatrician's cheap vinyl waiting room chairs, but my former student's selves, too. The promise of three good and kind men beckoned. The unpleasant car ride fell away. I grinned stupidly.
"Mom, are you OK?," whispered my sensitive younger. "You look a little weird."
"Fine. Better than fine," I answered. I was not lying.