The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Ten Things Jason Taught Me On My Summer Vacation

Promised to share some of the thoughts
 I had on the road with Jason for 2 1/2
weeks up and down California and
Oregon. Trust me--they ranged over
the full spectrum of my life and
teaching, and I suspect that that trip
will form a line of demarcation in my life.

1) Let your children teach you. They
are only children once, but they have a
 clarity about their emotions that adults
 obscure. Spending days cooped up in
 a car or a hotel room with my son, I
was sensitive to his every mood and
need. But one thing I really picked
up on was the fact that he feels first
and thinks second. He has an
emotion, and then tries to find the
 logic to justify it.
For instance: he feels like having an
 ice cream. Pure emotional response
 to a sweet urge.

He asks, and I say "no." Immediately ,
he begins to ask "why." And every
reason I come up with, he either
 ignores or tries to use to leverage
me into saying yes. "But you said
I should eat more protein!"


"Well, popsicles have milk in them,
and milk has protein..."
or: "It's hot and you said I should
stay cool..."
or: "You said I should drink a
 lot of water, and popsicles are
made of water..."
or: "I just want to see if they have
 any new flavors. You said I should
try new things..."

Oh, it was a monkey circus in that car.
 I loved it. But I asked myself: how
far do we really come from this stage?

 Do we really advance beyond it at all?

How often are arguments between
adults based on emotion, but cloaked
 in logic?

Political discussions, and discussions
 of religion seem especially vulnerable
to this. Logic on the outside, pure
emotion at the core. Understand
what the emotion is, and address it
directly, and the rest of the argument
will often quiet or dissolve, even if the
 arguer doesn't know why its happened.

How did this work? "Dad, I want a
"And I want you to do your math flash
cards. Tell you what: do twenty of
them, and you can have a popsicle."
"Aw, Dad! Why do I have to wait?"
"That's the offer. It's okay with me
 if you don't have the popsicle. But
you're doing the flash cards regardless.
Your choice."
"Twenty cards is too many!"
"Twenty One."
"Twenty One! How about twenty?"
"Twenty two."

Ah. And now we're having a totally
 different discussion. Did you
catch the shift? What he REALLY
wanted to know was what he had
 to do to get a popsicle. Once
the conditions were basically
established, we could argue and
enjoy ourselves.

But at the core of that, was the
question "am I safe? Do you hear
 me? Are you engaged with me
 in the process of helping me grow
up? Do you care how I feel?"

THOSE fears run deep. Popsicles
are a momentary symptom, a way
of testing whether he has power,
whether I care, in other words...
will he survive long enough to be
 big and strong enough to care for

The answer: yep. You're gonna
survive. And you're gonna be huge,
and dangerous, and sweet, and smart.

But meanwhile, kid, forty-two
divided by seven equals what..?


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