We talk quite a bit about having a farm one day. About a month ago, as we planned our farm, Noah gradually became vegetarian: he wanted cows, but not for eating (in fact, he wanted to live with the cows). A pigsty, but of course you wouldn't eat pigs, just feed them. Fish was ok to eat. They can't look you in the eyes the same way.
We eat meat once a week, so for a couple of weeks our meat has been fish.
Then he asked for biltong (like beef jerky but 208523 times better). I explained that there was cow biltong and kudu and springbok biltong, but in all cases the animal had died so that we could get the meat. He said he'd like beef biltong. So I got him and Eli each a piece, and as he was chewing it in the car, I could tell he was thinking about the cow. There was a a pause, then he said, "I only eat BAD cows. I run after them, chase them, then eat them." Trying to be a good parent, I suggested that maybe cows aren't bad and good, but I don't think my lecture stuck.
Then, this past week, after reading the story of the Prodigal Son, he wanted to sample pork. He whispered conspiratorially "pig's my favourite!"
Part of me wants Noah to be decisive. Wants him to be one thing, to be understandable and describable. But flowing with his inconsistencies, helping him to understand his own thought process is a big part of my role as a parent. Learning to listen is one of the hardest things, partly because it's always hard to listen, partly because Noah doesn't say all words in an easily understandable way, and partly because it's so fascinating and funny to hear his thought processes that I started judging him before we're done. Partly because when I judge him I judge myself, and I forget he's his own person.
One of the hardest things about parenting is teaching someone to want to do the right thing just because it's right. The more time goes on, the more I'm convinced that being an example is key. But being a good example, and explaining things, is hit and miss. For example, I don't want to force Noah to say "sorry" or "please" or "thank you" because they're social norms. I want him to really understand sorrow or gratitude. I also want him to get on and be able to benefit from other relationships, though, and that's something I'm not sure about: how do I help him not to freak out when people do things he doesn't like? For the moment I'm taking the grace that society generally has for children up to a certain age.
Don't laugh at me, but Noah's gotten really into writing (scribbles) so we're trying family meetings with written notes in response to conflicts. They're pretty nice affairs. Some kind of treat involved, not longer than 5 minutes, everyone contributes their ideas.
Today's problem: Eli hits Noah. Noah hits Eli back (harder). Eli wails. Then Eli learns hitting is ok, hits more.
Solutions (the brackets might have been adult contributions):
1) Touch Eli's hand or ear (gently)
2) Hit Eli on the head with the balloon (gently)
3) Run away and hide.
4) Hit hanging ball really hard (we have a bouncing ball that we taped and hung with string from the doorway)
5) Give Eli something (like a rag)
6) Put something on Eli's head (like a rag).
It's fair to say that we're a family of conflict avoiders (myself very much included), so I'm hoping that this will help live out that anger is ok, and that we can talk it through until we find something that works. It may be a little ambitious to expect too much, but I very much like the idea that problems need not be intractable, and frustrations need not build.