It was a perfect day to be on the beach. The ocean glimmered, its waves crashing ever so gently on the shore, almost in a whisper as to allow the seagulls to sing in unison as they flew overhead. Not a cloud in the sky. The sun beamed radiantly, yet enough of a breeze blew to prevent the heat from becoming unbearable. My husband, Orlando, walked on the sand carrying a tent on his shoulder looking for the perfect spot to set up our party. His three little helpers trailed behind him, each carrying items of varying degrees of heaviness. As they followed their father, they made wedges in the sand with their little crocs, and kept their heads down to prevent the sun from hurting their eyes. Suddenly our oldest son made a sound of disgust. Some seaweed had washed ashore. “Yuck!” He exclaimed. “Look at all this seaweed. It is so annoying.”
Orlando, who was sweating from the long walk with the tent on his shoulder, was also annoyed by the dry seaweed entangling itself in his flip-flops, but today was no ordinary day. Today was the day Orlando was going to surprise his wife (me) with a wedding vow renewal. Today, Orlando was celebrating 40 years of life and 10 years of marriage. Maybe it was the significance of the day, or maybe it was just a moment of clarity, but suddenly Orlando realized something: He sounds just like me.
My husband plopped the long, heavy tent on the sand and turned to face his three sons.
“Orly. Look up at the beach. What do you see?”
“The ocean.” Orly replied.
“Keep looking. Look at the sky. Look around you. What do you see?”
“A beautiful day?” Orly answered, hoping that was the right answer.
“Yes Orly, it is a beautiful day. Look at the beautiful ocean, the clear skies. Look at all the beauty around us. Doesn’t it seem silly to complain about some seaweed on the ground?”
The more he spoke, the more inspired he became. “You see, Orly, every man needs to know his strengths and his weaknesses. My biggest weakness, son, is that I spend way too much time looking at the seaweed. I scream and get angry over the silliest things. I waste time and energy looking at the seaweed and I often ignore the ocean that’s right in front of me. I don’t want that for you. I don’t want you to focus on the negative.”
Our sons smiled, but Orlando wasn’t finished.
“Life is full of seaweed. You are going to have little problems and big problems. There will always be seaweed, but life has so much beauty also. If you take the time to look around, life has much more ocean and clear skies than it does seaweed. As for me, you three are my ocean. Mommy is my ocean. Do you know what I mean?”
Our kids all replied, “yeah.” Knowing that they are young and probably ignored everything he just said in his moment of inspiration, Orlando tested them. “Okay, what do I mean by that?” Orly and Justin each gave a childlike explanation that sort of satisfied Orlando. Ryan, our four year old, chimed in in agreement with his older brothers.
The seaweed moment passed and the four boys got to work setting up the tents and tables. About an hour later, the four of them found themselves waiting in front of the lobby elevator at his mother’s building for her to exit the doors.
A couple of minutes passed.
The elevator doors did not open.
It was getting close to party time and Orlando was growing increasingly nervous. There was still a lot of work to be done, and the chairs and trellis had not arrived. “Where is she?” Orlando asked out loud. With frustration in his tone he added, “She is taking forever. She always does this.”
My six-year-old, Justin, looked up at his dad and said, “Dad, don’t look at the seaweed.” Orly perked up. “Yes, dad. Focus on the ocean. You are spending time with your three sons and we’re getting ready for a great party.”
They get it. My husband thought. With pride, he thanked his sons for helping him work on his flaws.
Later that evening when Orlando told me the story, I realized how important it is to talk with our children. Often, parents tell me they don’t share certain things with their kids because they think they’re too young or will not understand. Tell them what you’re thinking. Explain things to them, even if you think those concepts will escape them. Parenting expert, David Altshuler, wrote in a blog post:
“I don’t mean to creep you out but someone is stalking you. This particular someone is watching your every move, listening to every word you say, studying your facial expressions, thinking about how you respond to every situation. There is no place you can hide, nothing you can do to disguise your intentions. Your thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and ethics are revealed.”
Your kids are listening whether you want them to or not. If that is the case, then children are making their own interpretations of the events in their lives. Who better than you to talk things through with them? Be honest with your kids, no matter how old they are. Don’t be afraid to show them your weaknesses; they probably know them, anyway. When you’re honest and you talk with your kids, you make them your life partners. Let them be a part of your journey, as you will one day desperately want to be a part of theirs.
Oh, and one more thing: If you take this approach, be prepared for what’s coming. Your munchkins are sponges and they take life quite literally. Poor Orlando has been told to stop looking at the seaweed more times in the last few weeks than he can count. No one better to highlight your mistakes than your kids! In all seriousness, in life, the teachers are also the students. Our kids are teaching us that.