It’s complicated

It was bedtime, and Arlo was tired and being difficult. He’s the youngest, which is a hard place to fall in the family sometimes, and typically the fallout happens in the hour before he heads to bed. We used to let the kids watch two episodes of a show in the evenings, but I’ve felt uncomfortable about that for a while, so recently we changed the routine to incorporate a family game in place of one of the episodes. The older kids are happy with this because they really enjoy the games and are usually great about losing, but Arlo has a tougher time with it when he’s tired. He’d lost both hands of Uno that night and was disappointed not to be able to watch two episodes of “Octonauts”, and then upstairs he said he was bored of the Magic Tree House book Brian was reading to them even though he had been told that he could pick out a short book to read as well. If Arlo didn’t have older siblings, we most likely would be reading exclusively picture books, but because we have to appeal to a wider audience, he is asked to abide a lot of exposure to content that is more appropriate for kids of advanced age. It’s just easier for the older kids to enjoy a picture book than it is for Arlo to enjoy a chapter book, so understandably he protests.

Brian feels strongly that all of the kids should read together at bedtime, so he asked Arlo to go over and just sit with them for the duration of the book, but the child was complaining and adamant that he would not move from his position, which was lying on the bed in the master bedroom. We tried all sorts of things to get him to cooperate, but it just wasn’t working. Once we’d exhausted every avenue of “what to say to a five-year old to get him to give into the request we are making of him”, I had a thought: What would I say to him if he were the adult in the situation, and it was a child asking him to read books with him? It couldn’t hurt, so I tried, “Arlo, it’s not about the book. Daddy didn’t get home until almost 6:00. He just wants to spend some time with you.” I still had to carry him over to the sofa to deposit him, but he stopped resisting.

While I put away some clothing and tidied up, I half-listened to the chapter of the Magic Tree House book, in which the protagonist children, Jack and Annie, conclude their 22nd Merlin Mission, and caught these words: “‘Yep, but first we have to write down our new secret of greatness,’ said Annie. Jack pulled out a pencil and picked up the paper that was still lying on the floor. And under the word HUMILITY, he wrote: HARD WORK. ‘Hard work,’ said Annie. ‘That’s so simple.'”

Well, Jack and Annie, I agree that humility and hard work contribute to greatness. And I know that you are children, so you can’t appreciate this yet, but let me tell you something: it’s not so simple. And it sure isn’t easy. Greatness isn’t an endpoint, either; it’s not a destination at which one arrives, drops his bags, and sinks down into an easy chair. Greatness happens in moments, and it’s always a work in progress, evolving to meet each new instance, rifling around in the toolkit for what would best suit each given situation, and sometimes finding that new tools need to be created. This is humility and hard work, yes, but it’s also a process imbued with complexity. Let’s circle back to this discussion when you have kids. In the meantime, get back to that tree house, please, because there’s a 23rd Merlin Mission and someone has just got to save Florence Nightingale.

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