Last week, while my 3-year-old was readjusting to life with both his mom and dad, in a new city, in a temporary home, away from his friends in San Francisco and the cousins and grandparents he’d just been visiting, he cried a lot. Mostly, he cried for his dad.
It’s difficult to understand the concept of work, especially when only one parent does it and the other is playing “talking cars” and “soldiers who slime!” with him during the day. After missing his dad for weeks and being unable to articulate it, it broke August’s heart to watch his dad leave for work. Last Monday through Wednesday mornings were full of tears when Chris walked out the door.
And then…Wednesday night, after some trouble falling asleep, Chris went into August’s room to talk about why he couldn’t sleep. In the midst of that conversation, my son said: “Daddy, I want a new daddy who doesn’t go to work.” (He also told him he wanted a daddy with blonde hair, like him, but I digress…)
Maybe every working parent has had that sort of conversation with their kid, who can’t quite understand the concept of work and necessity. Chris was heartsick. Not because August had wished for a “new dad.” Chris can handle that sort of preschool-brain thought process. But he was sad over what August thinks Chris is choosing over him. Chris’ old job had a ping-pong table in the middle of the room of desks (so progressive! I know.) When we used to visit Chris at work in San Francisco, August couldn’t imagine that he was doing anything other than playing ping-pong there.
Playing ping-pong all day instead of being with his son? Is that what August thinks? What is in his mind? What is going to be in his memory bank of childhood in our home? How will the roles we’re playing in front of him affect how he will see the world?
When I ask myself those questions, I really struggle. I want August to be a kid who sees a woman and thinks: She could be an astronaut! Or a paleontologist! Or a racecar driver! But the woman he sees all day is not scientifically minded, doesn’t like to drive (I do it, but when I can, I hand the keys to Chris), and doesn’t have a job. What am I teaching him about women? What is Chris teaching him about men?
The next day, August said to us, “Boys have blue eyes and girls have green eyes!” Well, in our family of four, that’s correct. But how to translate the reality of men and women to our boy: Girls can have every color of eyes, August. Just like boys don’t have to have blue eyes.
I want him to know that women are valuable, not because they’re needy but because they’re strong. I want him to know that work is gift God has given us because we are invited to make something beautiful every day, to create order out of chaos like our God: The farmer tames the land into growing food. The sales person offers a better option to someone who needs it. The programmer finds a faster way to order our lives. The writer takes words and places them side by side to make a story that moves us. These things are valuable.
“August,” I said, “Do you know why grown ups work?”
“Why?” he said, half-heartedly.
“Because God is giving us a chance to make things better.”
“Hmmmm,” he said, then crashed Lightning McQueen into the couch.
Maybe I should learn that lesson first so he can learn it later…