Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely but too well.
Nick had his first sleep over a week ago. His friend James spent the night at our house. Everyone even managed to catch a few hours of rest.
In the morning, the boys wanted French toast for breakfast (“Two pieces each!”) We were out of bread, so I went to the market and bought a loaf. It was the kind where no two pieces were exactly the same size.
When I got home, I wish I had called the boys into the kitchen and let them work out which two pieces they each would get. Instead, I got caught up in the idea of being as wise as Solomon. I selected both pieces for each boy, choosing carefully so that each would get the same total amount of bread. Then I cooked and served the first two pieces.
“James got a bigger piece,” said Nick.
“I know,” I said in my most biblical voice. “But your next piece will be bigger than his.”
“I don’t want any French toast today,” Nick said.
To my mind, Nick was off base, but I wasn’t sure what his issue was. For me the problem was fairness, and I had solved that problem. As far as I was concerned, Nick needed to deal with the solution.
So I said, “Nick, it doesn’t work for me if you ask for French toast and I go to a lot of trouble to make it, and then you to say you don’t want it. Now I’ve made all this toast for nothing.”
“James can eat the rest of the toast,” Nick said.
“Fine,” I said. “But I only make French toast once a day, so that’s it. I’m not making any more.”
I gave James the second piece of toast, the one Nick said he didn’t want. Then I cooked the other two pieces (which had been soaking in egg batter.) I served James the third piece and ate the fourth myself.
“Where’s Nick?” said James, as he polished off the last of his portion.
I discovered Nick in bed with Nora, who had had the good sense to sleep in. Nick was crying. When he does this at home, usually it’s on account of an argument where he hasn’t felt heard.
Nora told me later that when she’d asked Nick what happened, he had said this:
“James got more.”
“More of everything. More attention.”
I went downstairs and ran over the morning in my mind. Clearly and with the best of intentions, I’d blundered into a ditch. How? I had been fair. But then I realized that fairness had not been Nick’s concern. Nick’s concern was being special to me. And somehow, in the way I had divided up the french toast, he had felt de-valued. I couldn’t see it at the time because I was feeling too righteous. Given both our vulnerabilities, we’d gone right off the road.
It didn’t matter to me anymore that I’d been fair. My need to be Solomon dissolved once I had named it. Nor was it necessary to share any of my insight with Nick, even if that were possible with an eight-year-old.
What was necessary was that we re-connect.
Later, after James had gone home, Nick came into my study.
“Why didn’t you make me French toast?” he said.
“Actually I did make you French toast. Then you said you didn’t want it.”
“Well, I want some.”
I took a deep breath.
“I get really burned out cooking breakfast. I don’t think I have it in me to do it again on my own. But if you help, maybe we could make more French toast together.”
“Okay,” he said.
. . .
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Image credit: It’s not easy to find a picture of King Solomon holding the scales of justice. The image above is, of all things, the Wise King Solomon Nutcracker, handmade in Germany by the Steinbach family of artisans. If you need one, it can be purchased here.
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