The trouble with being wise

by Wolf Pascoe on February 2, 2011

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Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely but too well.

Shakespeare, Othello

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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.

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“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 what?”

“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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You might also enjoy:

Watching the real King Solomon, sort of:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpDjR2Jtao0&feature=player_embedded

. . .

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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Thoughts on Solomon, or the problems of being wise with kids? Express yourself! I’d love you to add your comment below. I always respond here.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

kathryn kates February 2, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Now, even I hate you. HE’S EIGHT! IT’S ALL ABOUT HIM! Go back to Dad School and tell Nick all your friends are climbing into bed with him and his Mom.

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Wolf Pascoe February 2, 2011 at 9:17 pm

Jeez. Don’t I get any points for being honest?

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BigLittleWolf February 2, 2011 at 8:59 pm

The issue of “fairness” is so problematic with kids. As adults, we want to teach them fair play, sharing, team work. But every child wants to feel special, of course. Especially to those whom he loves.

Your wisdom came in seeing that what Nick needed was to reconnect – not your explanation. Your being there for him; his being special.

For those of us with 2 or more kids, we run into this early, and often. The natural competitiveness, and the inherent differences in siblings that require different handling. Separate but equal, if you will. Hard to know the “right” thing to do, even harder to justify – especially to a child.

I’m guessing Solomon had some good meds. This parenting thing isn’t for the faint of heart. 🙂

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Wolf Pascoe February 2, 2011 at 9:10 pm

I think you’re right, parents with more than one kid get used to this earlier. Now that Nick is having more play overs, it’s beginning to crop up.

You think you know a thing or two, until you don’t.

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Raffi February 2, 2011 at 10:22 pm

It is all about sharing
Nick does not know how to share you yet.
And yes he did not have the attention he was used to.

This too shall pass

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Wolf Pascoe February 2, 2011 at 11:54 pm

“Nick does not know how to share you yet.”
That about nails it. Thanks, Raffi.

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Sirena February 3, 2011 at 11:51 am

I don’t hate you.

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Wolf Pascoe February 3, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Thanks, old chum. I can do with a little support.

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digitalcatharsis February 3, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Hahaha! This one made me laugh! But on the second thought, I am sure I’ll get into situations like this when the second child comes.
Thanks for sharing 🙂

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Wolf Pascoe February 4, 2011 at 12:05 am

You’ve been warned. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Or something.

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Charles Bernstein February 3, 2011 at 9:58 pm

I love that video clip. So enjoyable and apt. Oh, and when kids don’t get enough sleep, they more easily fall prey to the irrational stuff, like feeling second best.

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Wolf Pascoe February 4, 2011 at 12:07 am

The video is so wonderfully cheesy. I’m glad you liked it. About lack of sleep–does it have the same effect on parents? 🙂

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Henry Elliss February 4, 2011 at 11:13 am

Despite not having been through this as a dad yet (mine is only 2 and a half), I still vividly remember having this issue myself when I was a kid. You always want your parents to look after friends when they come to visit, but at the same time you feel jealous of them when they get attention that you’re used to. It’s a vicious circle, and there’s no win for the parent in that situation!! 😀

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Wolf Pascoe February 4, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Henry,

It’s great you can remember so far back–you’re prepared in some way for when your kid is older. I tried to remember being jealous of the attention my dad gave other kids, but came up blank. Probably this has to do with his being gone by the time I was 8.

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