Okay, so, yes, I know – when it comes to dishes or laundry, walking the dog, maybe even schoolwork <gasp>… the kids might not be listening. Or, perhaps they’re simply filtering it out, since there are activities and topics they’re more interested in. Maybe they really are listening, but they only react when what they hear is meaningful.
On that note, I wanted to share some examples when it’s become clear our kids were listening.
When our children were very, very young (our older two were three and five), we attended the early service at church, which was held in the chapel. As family, we’d sit in the back pew, and I generally brought along some colorful file folder games. I’d made a large selection, and I’d rotate bringing a few each Sunday. The older boys would sit on the floor, use the pew seat as a table, and work silently at matching shapes or solving other puzzles. As a rule, this worked very well to keep the boys actively engaged (and close to silent) during sermons and other very quiet portions of the service.
One Sunday during his sermon, the pastor was sharing a personal example from his childhood related to practice and piano lessons. When he mentioned the name of one song he’d studied – the Mickey Mouse March – seemingly out of no where, both boys popped up (straight up) into the air, heads above the pews, calling out, “Mickey Mouse! Mickey Mouse!” Caught unawares, my husband and I hurriedly shushed them back down to their shape and color puzzles… and only later did it dawn on me that they’d been listening all along… This was one time that they heard something they related to immediately, but I am quite certain the lessons and the underlying messages of those sermons were being taken in and stored in the process of their minds cataloguing and attempting to understand the world.
Was it a wizard?
As a preschooler, our oldest son took a long time to sort out the differences in pronunciations of L, R, and W. Most of the time, my husband and I automatically listened not only to what he said, but also the context and knew what he was talking about. Not this time.
We were driving somewhere around the greater LA area on surface streets (not the highways). The two younger boys were in carseats in the second row, and way back in the third row sat our oldest, three years old, seated up a bit high thanks to his car seat. My husband had just abruptly slammed on the brakes, and our oldest son leaned in toward the center of the car (the better to see us and the road ahead), and promptly asked,
“Was it a wizard?”
My husband and I were speechless for several moments. A wizard? Our son was much too young to have Harry Potter on his radar year… What? What was he asking.
We eventually realized he was asking, “Was it a lizard?”
At the time, there was a Geico commercial where the gecko was on the road and a drive narrowly avoided missing him. We had no idea our son was even noticing the commercial, much less paying attention to it. He was always busy doing something else – playing or building. Yet, when we had to abruptly stop, it was his first thought. When we thought he was focused on something else… he was listening.
We have a family friend who recorded a couple of albums that have become favorites for road trip listening. On occasion, we also pull them out for general enjoyment as we run our daily errands. One song contains the line,
“He was 1/3 a preacher and 1/3 a cowboy, and 2/3 philosopher-king.”
Each one of our boys, in turn, has questioned that line. With all three, the first comment has started something like,” Buuuttt….” and they’ve gone on to directly point out that the “math doesn’t add up.” This may seem simplistic on the surface, but the songs on these albums are constructed around stories containing deep truths (and less deep truths) about life, and many carry meaningful literary and theological imagery. While their intent may have simply been to bop along to catchy tunes, the reality was the inner reflection that arose from thinking about the words. On another occasion, our oldest commented near the end of a track, “Waitaminute. I think that song might be an allegory.” I (somehow) managed to contain myself and said, “Well, run it back and listen again and see what you think.” Maybe most of you parents out there are accustomed to your teens and tweens commenting casually about literary imagery, whether in prose or music. I, for one, am not.
I don’t know that there’s any great wisdom in this post (unlike our friend’s music, which is full of wisdom.). But it’s a lesson that I’m constantly having to relearn. I may gripe on the sly to my husband, “They don’t listen,” but the truth is they are always listening.