"I'm a good helper. Can I help you, please? Please?"
Words from Geddy, more often lately as he matures into his three-year-old self, come sweetly. He, through personal motivation and probably a little Daniel Tiger inspiration, wants to help make dinner, help select grocery items and bag them at the conveyor belt, help dig weeds, and help when Daddy doesn't feel well. I'm learning to let him as much as I can. It's true; he is a good helper and can do so much even though he's still so small and not always very coordinated. (But hey, I've broken numerous dishes in the kitchen over a few short years so I'm not so very coordinated either!). He lights up to discover what he is capable of and how he can bring smiles to his parents.
Today he wanted to help make someone else feel better. I almost didn't include him, but he asked so earnestly and I realized what a great moment for him to use his helpful spirit outside of the family. I've been wondering lately how to model compassion and a giving spirit in ways that he will see without me having to schedule a service opportunity the same way I might sign him up for an art class. In other words, I want to fill his day with meaning without putting something on a list to check off.
This is what I need for me too. I want to act on the nudges from God to be that "good helper" without thinking I need to go out looking for a specific opportunity to do a good deed. The moments are all around for kindness. I need to just let them happen.
I also want my son to learn that joy in seeing someone helped is all the reward we need. I cringe when I recall high school honor society and how we got points for "helping" our community. It felt a little wrong to me at the time, but still I submitted my slips of paper detailing what I had done so I could get those points, earn that letter, wear that collar at graduation. What the hell was that all for? Most of what I did I was going to do anyway. I didn't do it for honor society, but I certainly used it after the fact for my own interests. And who cares which people were in honor society in high school and which weren't? It didn't make any difference for when I applied to college. It didn't help me get a job somewhere. And it shouldn't have anyway. Why should we get real or pretend awards for doing what is right?
I try to let it go, not be bitter about old stuff, not feel guilty for how I acted in high school but learn from it, especially as a parent. I really shy away from rewards of any kind. I'm hesitant to potty train my son by using treats. Yes, I know it works for many, and I really am not mentioning this to judge any one who does this. I have my own personal history I'm battling with. I have no perfect answers on how to raise a child or teach him to poop in the potty and not in his diaper. I just want my motivations to be pure and to pass that spirit on to my son.
He's on the right track, I think, but then he's not perfect. He whines when he doesn't get his own way. He expects, and quite often does get, praise. That's not a lot different sometimes than something tangible. But he and I are a work in progress. And each day is a new day. And he really is a good little helper! He helps me practice patience, learn to let my lists go unchecked for a little while, laugh, and love life even in the hard moments.
("Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" is a children's show on PBS, modeled after the show "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood", which I watched more than religiously as a child.)