Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 28, 2014

‘Loving ahead’ means listening now


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — Sometimes I wish I could see into the future — that I could open a book or laptop and get an image of what my child needs and how I can help her grow, thrive and become the person she is meant to be. And be able to do so without the fear and stress that often accompanies parenting.

If only Apple could invent that technology — the iSee or iNext. Maybe Microsoft could create software — Outlook Ahead.

As a young person, I marveled at my mom’s intuition. She seemed able to read my mind or know when I needed a reality check or a little extra oversight. She had an innate ability to anticipate my mood or read a situation ... or read a person. I’ve been known to do that occasionally, but — as is the case with my mom’s beautiful blue eyes — I didn’t get that gift handed down.

Rather than being able to see into the future, though, it may be something much more simple and basic. The ability may be something we can all pursue and practice, applying it to our children when needed most.

I’ve begun to think of it as “loving ahead.” That’s the phrase that came to mind when I heard the story of what a young father reportedly did for his son.

A humorous posting on Facebook touted some great parenting ideas, “24 People Who Are Really Nailing This Parenting Thing.” My personal favorite was the “Get Along Shirt,” which in the photo was one large white T-shirt stuffed with two very unhappy children. Stay in there long enough and the fighting will stop either because they’ve made up or they don’t dare utter another word for fear of spending the rest of their lives together in the shirt. Another favorite was the sign that read, “Want today’s Wi-Fi password? 1. Make your bed 2. Vacuum downstairs 3. Walk the dog.”

But the one that stayed with me most — the number one idea from someone “really nailing this parenting thing” was Fletcher’s dad. Fletcher’s dad went around the neighborhood before Halloween, distributing a note at homes where he planned to walk with his 8-year-old son, who, he carefully explained, would be dressed as an Angry Bird. “Fletcher has a very severe form of epilepsy,” the note read. “In order to treat his epilepsy and prevent more seizures, Fletcher must maintain a medical diet called the ketogenic diet, a strict diet that excludes many foods including every type of candy.”

The father explained that, obviously, Halloween is a very difficult holiday with all his friends trick or treating. Nonetheless, the boy is very excited about it and they wanted him to experience the holiday as normally as possible. “Therefore,” the father wrote, “we have purchased a number of small toys to give to Fletcher on Halloween instead of candy. One of these toys is attached to this letter. We are asking that when Fletcher comes to your door on Halloween evening instead of candy, please give him this small gift.”

And the father, who apparently thought of everything, made certain that the neighbors would know which Angry Bird was the right Angry Bird: “He will be with me and he will introduce himself as Fletcher.” So the father was even teaching the young boy good manners, a tough task at any time but especially on the sugar-fueled all Hollow’s Eve.

The always-prepared dad also recognized that some folks preferred to keep their outside lights off and ignore the ringing doorbell, so he added a P.S. “If you are not giving out candy this year, please give me a call ... and I will come pick up the toy.” This was a father who recognized that an exciting and fun holiday, where a kid can dress up and be whatever and whomever he wants, could become a very sad tradition for his son — because what Fletcher simply wanted to be on Halloween was as normal as possible. So a very forward-thinking father made that happen, to the best of his ability.

He bought small cars and toys and mapped out the night. He was planning ahead for every possibility. He was loving ahead for the sake of his son.

As our children get older, we can’t always plan ahead quite so efficiently and effectively. We can’t leave notes at the neighbors and cushion the way for our growing children. In fact, sometimes we do them a disservice by trying to protect them too much, by hovering nearby in the bushes with an alternative toy — or a trophy for just being on the team. Sometimes they need to walk away empty handed so they will learn the greater lesson.

My wish to sometimes see the future would also do a disservice for my daughter. Sometimes loving ahead just means listening right now. We can hear what they are saying and not saying, if we listen closely enough. As they get older, long past the age of 8-year-old Fletcher, we need to be willing to let them map out a plan themselves, rather than do it for them. That’s loving them ahead, no matter what.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who writes about faith, family and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. She lives in North Carolina with her family. Contact her at jdesmond@bdtonline.com.