Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why indeed

So, one evening a couple weeks ago, I was standing outside the bathroom while my son Rithvik was washing up after dinner. As he walked out afterwards, I closed the door behind him, but my timing was off just a teeny bit, and the bottom corner of the door gave his heel a solid knock on his way out. Normally you would have heard a howl of “Boo boo!”, but this time he just hopped around a bit on his good leg and turned around to face me. Of course, I was completely mortified, so I gave his heel a little massage and apologized profusely. “I’m so sorry for hitting your foot, Rithvik!”

He replied with one of his Why questions that are getting delightfully common, “Why did Appa hit my foot?” (Appa is Dad in Tamil).

“I closed the door a bit too quickly, Rithvik”, I explained.

Back came another question, “Why did Appa close the door too quickly?”

I said, “It was a mistake, Rithvik; I didn’t mean to close it too quickly”.

He persisted, “Why did Appa make a mistake?”

Nailed! All I could do was shake my head and say, “That’s a good question, Rithvik”.

I guess I could have said I wasn’t paying attention, or that I was in a hurry and wanted to move on to the next thing on my agenda, and so on.

But I’ve been thinking since then, off and on through the vacation we went on shortly thereafter: how utterly simple it is to question what we do. If a 11-year-old with supposedly limited communication skills can stop me in my tracks, maybe we can all do with some of this lack of sophistication.

Earlier this evening I had another chance. While getting Rithvik ready for bed, he piped up, “Are Amma and Roshan coming tomorrow?” His mom and little brother are indeed returning tomorrow from their extended vacation, so I said yes. Something prompted me to dig deeper, so I asked “Do you want Amma and Roshan to come back tomorrow?”

A unequivocal “Yes!” was his prompt reply.

“Why do you want Amma to come back?” I asked, taking it one person at a time.

“It’s Thursday”, he replied.

“That’s right; tomorrow is Thursday. Why do you want Amma to come back on Thursday?”

“I’m going to Clearlake Intermediate school on Monday”.

Hmmm. Good try; entering middle school certainly counts as a major event in one's life. “But you don’t need Amma for that; I can take you to school on Monday. Why do you want Amma?”, I persisted.

“Because. . .”, he paused, “Amma is mother”. Then there was a little more mental hunting for the right words. Then his face brightened up and a big smile appeared. “I LIKE Amma!”

Thanks for telling me so beautifully, Rithvik.

Moments like these are the payoff for all the time and energy invested into clear, honest, loving communication. For being vigilant with every word that is uttered, for making sure that every single “Why” is for a real question, not a judgment, and is followed by a wait for the answer.

A huge THANK YOU to everybody who has ever taught me the value and power of a nonjudgmental question.

Happy questioning,

Sree

1 comment:

  1. Sree,

    I sit here with a tear in my eye of the enormousness of his expression. For some of us it is so simple to put things into a couple of words, and we forget that it takes lots of brain cells communicating with each other to make it work.

    The other day I was working with my almost eight year old friend. He has been interested in books, and his 20 (!) books have to go where even he goes. So, going to the playroom Dad carries the big stack, he himself carries two very important posters and behind it come I! In the playroom we have some book related games that we play. But this time I ask him why we bring all the books. He sits and thinks, takes two books in his hands and says I love... (pause) I love... (pause) I love colors.

    Yes. What an excellent answer. What an fantastic boys. Cannot wait to meet Rithvik and your family some day. I love hearing your experiences. Thank you!

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