Sometimes, my boys can be so stinkin unkind to each other.
It grates on me.
“Your relationship with each other is a gift!” I tell them. “You are so lucky to have each other,” I say. “Take care of your brother,” I remind them. And of course, “BE NICE!”
But lately, I’ve noticed that it matters far less what I say in the middle of their bickering, and far more what I do when they are watching.
I make a concerted effort to strike up conversations with cashiers. I compliment old ladies on their bright blue and obviously vintage coats. I look people in the eye as they hand me my coffee. I write thank you cards.
This is not a virtual way to pat myself on the back. It’s simply the truth. This is what I do, because I believe these things matter. I believe that it’s far too easy for all of us to treat other human beings as a commodity in this day and age of fast food, high speed internet, and on-the-go everything.
Kindness matters, because too many of us simply aren’t trying.
I’ve found that a simple way to nudge Theo along in his reading and writing is to have him sit down with me at the beginning of each week and write out a few thank you notes. I usually ask to whom he would like to write, what he would like to say, and then I write down his dictation for him to copy.
The funny thing is, though, that I’ve never actively included Oliver in this process. He is in the room, but at age three, I’ve never had him try his own hand at a thank you card.
The other day we were leaving someone’s house and before he walked out the door Oliver stopped and said, “Thank you for inviting me over.”
Stunned, I continued to load everyone into the van and as I wondered where he learned to talk that way. Then it dawned on me that he had heard Theo and I discuss the content of our latest thank you notes. “Thank you for inviting me to your home,” Theo’s card read.
Later in the week, we returned to a book store where Oliver had forgotten his baseball cap over the weekend. The clerk handed us his cap and Oliver cheerfully quipped, “Thank you for finding this for me!”
I smiled, knowing that this too was something he had heard us say.
We walked down the street to a coffee shop for a cup of coffee for mommy. I ordered black coffee, but the proprietor asked if he could make me something different.
I said that he could and thanked him, mentioning that I appreciated the suggestion to try something new.
He nodded, and noticing the kids eyeing his baked good display, asked me if the boys had been good that day.
“They’ve been very good,” I replied, as he handed me my cup of coffee.
“Then let me give them each a cookie, if that would be alright?” he asked.
I agreed, and he warmed up two large chocolate chip cookies.
As the boys eagerly reached up for their unexpected treat, they excitedly exclaimed, “Thank you!” before running off to find a table.
On the way home that day, they kicked and yelled and complained about the other and again, it irritated me. I had them tell the other person one thing they loved about them. It took some prodding and some hinting and some, “No, I’m sorry, but that isn’t really a compliment. Please try again.” But we got there.
I know this is mostly just a stage. Just as I know that they will one day grow up to read and write, so too will they understand how to be kind.