Yesterday I decided to take my son out to the local trails to ride his new bike. I could tell that both of us needed some time together just hanging and doing something active. He was so excited to get to skip his nap and go out with me to ride his bike. Helmet firmly attached to his head and bike in hand, we pedaled to the entrance of the trails. Happy to be outside, even in 95 degree weather, I looked forward to the next 60 minutes or so of just having fun with my oldest son. Then it happened. We came to the top of the entrance to the trails and it was a decline. Nothing huge, mind you, but from the vantage point of a 3 year-old it may as well have been a ski ramp.
Caleb looked at me and flatly refused to ride down such an unreasonable slope. “I could fall, daddy.” We’d been having this struggle for a few weeks so I really wanted him to at least try it. But looking at him I could tell this hill was definitely not the one to die on. “You can just walk the bike down the hill and we’ll ride at the bottom where it’s flat.” Hesitantly he began the decent. Sparing all the details, the next 100 yards (60 of them being flat) took about 30 minutes and massive amounts of encouragement, then pushing and finally flat out threatening to keep him moving. Finally, exhausted and pouring sweat while getting no enjoyment from the outdoors anymore I decided we should just take a break. We sat down to some bottled water and trail mix. At this point I just want to go home, throw him into bed and go take a nap myself. Instead, we sit in silence for a few moments and just listen to the silence around us. A few bikes whiz by with mom, dad and kids chatting happily as if to taunt the two sidelined riders sitting there. Finally, I gathered my thoughts and said, “Buddy, look at me.” Slowly he turns his head and I can see that he’s frustrated with me, himself and the whole situation.
“You know I’m not trying to frustrate you, right?”
“Yeah, I know.”
“I’m just trying to get you to ride your bike and enjoy it. You love riding your bike in circles in the driveway. Riding out here is even more fun and it’s something we can do together. I’d never tell you to do something I thought was too dangerous for you. You’ve just gotta trust me sometimes.”
“…” Caleb sits staring off in the distance.
“I’m really sorry if I frustrated you, though. It really wasn’t my intent.”
“Daddy, you really need to listen to people more.”
What?! Where did that come from? But as his statement settled in it drove deep into my heart. I do have a problem with listening to people sometimes. So caught up in what I’m trying to get done I miss the other person in the process. Is that what just happened? And wait, this kid is 3 years old! What the heck is going on here?
“Buddy, did you feel like I wasn’t listening to you?”
“Yeah. If you don’t listen to me I’m not going to want to play with you anymore.”
In a matter of about 10 seconds I’ve gone from daddy teaching his son a lesson to a guy having his heart ripped out like the witch doctor in the Temple of Doom. But I regain my composure and respond.
“Wow, kiddo. I didn’t mean to not listen to you. I’m so sorry you felt that way. Tell you what, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll do my best to listen to you more and not frustrate you if you’ll promise to try and trust me when I ask you to do things that you aren’t sure about. Deal?”
“Will you play with me on the playground for a while?”
“Of course, buddy. Let’s go. You want me to carry your bike back for you?”
I knew the day would come when I’d get called out by my kids about something. I’m not perfect and I knew they’d catch me at some point. I just never dreamed it would be that profound of an insight nor at 3 years old. My kids just blow me away.