Trooper had been looking a little sad, his face turned down, moping around the kitchen, but I hadn't thought much of it at the time because I knew why. Jonathan had made him come downstairs. Trooper wouldn't stay out of the way while Jonathan was taking the knob off a door, and of course the reason Jonathan was removing a doorknob was because Trooper had locked the door to the room with all the tools in it. Everything we had that might double as a lock-pick was in that room. Fortunately, Jonathan finally found a little Phillips-head in a drawer somewhere, so he could get the knob off without going out to buy one. All that to say, Jonathan was irritated with the boy, and so was I, for various reasons. It had been one of 'those days' when my Trooper was on a mission of mischief, and it didn't compliment my mission of education and orderly conduct.
To be honest, we have a lot of days like those. Trooper is a bit like a cuddly, friendly, adorable, hilarious puppy whom everyone loves, yet he chews up your shoes, dumps the trash on the floor, pulls the toilette paper off the roll, tackles people, and often stubbornly refuses to obey simple commands. I love him more than seems possible, but man, can he wear me thin.
I was getting started on dinner when Trooper came to stand before me, still looking down at his toes.
"I feel like nobody likes me."
I can't think of anything that could have hurt my heart more than that statement. I completely forgot about dinner (I still can't remember what it was) and picked up my little love to hold him. What followed was a rambling, mushy, tight-squeezing string of assurances that we do like him, and in fact love him more than anything on earth, and that just because we get upset about his behavior doesn't mean we dislike him.
But at that moment I knew I had failed. Not completely--he clearly feels close enough to me to tell me how he's feeling, and most of the time we're good--but I had misjudged the affect my displeasure in his attitude and behavior were having on him. Honestly, it reminded me a little of the revelation Jail has about Rima in Kergulen, when he realizes that so much of the way she's been acting is in response to his frustration. I think we're relatively good about giving affirmation and encouragement in our family, but obviously it hasn't been enough to balance out the scolding and irritation.
So, now for the reason I felt compelled to share this story. I'm close to my child; we spend almost all day every day together, we have fun, we argue, he thanks me for teaching him things… Also, Trooper is an extreme extravert who is generally pretty good about saying what he thinks and feels. But what about kids who don't have someone they can really talk to? What about children who internalize things instead of saying them? What about kids whose parents don't even try to give encouragement and positive reinforcement? What about adults who have the same problems? My guess is that the world is full of people who feel like 'nobody likes them' at least several times a week, and that feeling unloved/un-liked/unnoticed is one of their biggest motivations for misbehavior. I know for a fact that days when I am extra expressive of my love for Trooper, he acts so much better than on the days when we're in a hurry and just trying to get things done. I know I act so much better when I've been feelin' the love. So what to do?
Love. Love more. Love like our lives depend on it. Because they do.
(The last four sentences are an adapted quote from Dean Koontz.)