I was walking with our 11-year-old at the Zoo yesterday. He said, “Daddy?”
I said, “Yes?”
He said, “What if aliens use the same words as us, but they mean something completely different?”
I didn’t need to ask for clarification…he went on before I could,” I mean, like, what if the word ‘want’ means ‘pickle’ to aliens, or what if the work ‘play’ means ‘book?’
His voice began to shake a bit, his energy level lifted, and his shoulder and arms started oscillating up and down, and back and forth.
He continued, “…and, like when they say that no two snowflakes are the same, that’s impossible. There have been so many snowflakes. It just ins’t possible that none of them are the same.”
He took a sharp breath and kept going, “…and if aliens do use the same words as we do but the means something different, they wouldn’t be able to understand anything we’re talking about. They might think we’re saying something different than what we’re actually saying. It would be so confusing!”
He started to make that face you make when you feel like crying but you’re not quite there. The kind of face you make when you’d like to be there…when a good cry might be just what you need.
He went through a series of equally interesting and unique diatribes on a variety of seemingly unconnected subjects before taking a deep breath, looking up at me, and letting me know, “That’s what keeps me up at night.”
Then, he said something I didn’t expect. It was just about the most obvious thing he could have said, and I’m not sure why I didn’t expect it, but I didn’t. He said, “…and I’m really tired of COVID.”
Surprise, surprise…our 11-year-old is tired of living his first year of middle school without having seen the inside of an actual school.
He’s tired spending time with his the top third of his friends’ heads from six feet away.
He’s tired of living every waking moment trying to start the next phase of his physical, emotional, social, and spiritual life surrounded by his mom, his dad, and his three younger siblings.
He’s tired of wondering if he’ll get sick.
He’s tired of so much being so far out fo his control.
Or, maybe he’s truly and deeply concerned about the possibility that us and aliens seem to have no hope of ever understanding one another. Yah, that’s probably it.
They may not be telling us exactly what’s on their minds in every moment.
They may not know.
It might not always, or even ever end with, “…and I’m really tired of COVID.”
It may not matter.
It may only matter that we take whatever time we can to be there.
We can’t relieve our children of the inevitable hurt they’re going to suffer repeatedly over the course of their lives, but we can be there to listen as they process. We can make clear that we care, that they are not alone, that even challenging is also a chance, and that sharing emotions represents a really healthy kind of strength.
Listen. Make time. Genuinely listen. Value, celebrate, respect, model, guide, and validate.
Kids of this COVID generation may turn out to be the most resilient human beings in history. They may be the ones to actually be the change we want; the change we need.
Heck, they may learn how to communicate with aliens.
We can help them with our hearts, our minds, and our ears.
Funny thing, when we do…it helps us, too.
In it together for the kids.
Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.