While speaking with a friend recently, I came to the realization that people don’t really change. At the centre of each person is the template of who they really are and while experiences over the course of one’s life certainly colours that template, the template itself doesn’t change.
For some, that statement might appear defeatist and dark. For the rest of us, that statement is pure gold!
When my son was a very young toddler, he was a busy little boy just like most other little boys are and he got into all sorts of things. Sometimes I would find him sitting on the kitchen floor with all the pots and pans, lining them up from largest to smallest. Sometimes I would find him sitting behind a bedroom door, playing with the doorstop that was on a spring and made a delightful “boinnnnnnnng” noise when stretched out and released.
And sometimes, I would find him just staring at an object. You could almost hear the gears in his mind clicking together as he extrapolated information from thin air.
Parents usually decide that this is the time to give toddlers little jobs to do like taking napkins to the table for supper or getting a book for reading time. And this is when adults first get a glimpse at the toddler’s true nature.
Other people’s first introduction to Lewis’ true nature when he was a toddler — since I already had a good understanding of what I was in for by that time — unfolded one day at the local bank branch to discuss business matters with the bank manager. She insisted that I put Lewis in the “play area” the bank had set aside for children and I strongly recommended that he stay sitting on the counter between us. In the end, the bank manager won out and Lewis was placed in the “play area.”
Now don’t get me wrong about this. The “play area” was well designed for most children. It was fenced in with a small white picket fence about 18 inches high and there was a castle, a barn, farm animals, a couple of My Little Ponies, army men, trolls and one Barbie. In other words, there was more than enough there to keep most children interested for an extended period of time.
A few minutes later, police cars pulled up outside the bank, lights flashing. The phone on the desk rang and the manager picked up. A strange look crossed her face as her brow furrowed. Whatever was going on was serious business and I turned towards the “play area” to gather Lewis up in my arms.
He wasn’t there.
A police sargent strolled into the bank branch and spoke to the manager while I turned to the closest teller and said, “My son is missing. Have you seen him?” She looked at me, confused, and asked, “Where was your son?”
“My son,” I said, somewhat alarmed and yet confident that Lewis was somewhere nearby inside the bank, “was playing right here.” I pointed to the play area. “He’s a toddler … you know, Lewis … ”
“Oh, Lewis!” she exclaimed with a broad smile. Everyone knew Lewis with his natural big blond curls and bright curious eyes. When I banked, he would sit on the counter beside my purse, point to the teller’s computer keyboard or screen and make all sorts of interesting sound effects and partial words meant to illicit laughter from others.
As the police sargent and the bank manager continued to speak, one by one, the tellers began looking for Lewis. “I haven’t seen him,” said one teller, “but I did hear someone whistling as they walked behind me a few minutes ago.” Aha! that was the first clue Lewis had passed that way as Lewis had learned to whistle shortly after his first birthday and he found whistling to be one of those happy-go-lucky activities he enjoyed doing.
It was at this point that the bank manager began telling her staff that somehow, a silent alarm had gone off at the branch and I got that funny feeling that parents get when they just know that their child is somehow involved in the situation. “Where’s the button for the silent alarm?” I asked.
“There’s one in my office, of course,” she began.
“Well,” I interrupted, “Lewis is missing and none of us can find him out here. Do you think we could check your office?” The manager and the police sargent gave me a strange look, failing to see where I was going with all of this. The three of us walked into her office and there was Lewis, standing behind the manager’s desk, plonking away on her computer keyboard. It didn’t take long for us to realize who was responsible for the silent alarm.
The police sargent, being very good with children, approached Lewis and told Lewis, “You have to stay with your mommy. You can’t go into other people’s rooms. You can’t just push buttons.”
Lewis looked at him with that serious look he still gets when people are saying things that make no sense to him. “Me can do,” he stated very matter-of-factly as he nodded his head up and down, confident in his abilities.
In a quiet voice, I spoke up and said, “In Lewis’ world, there’s a difference between what he can do and what he has permission to do.” The sargent looked sideways at me, smiled and turned back to Lewis.
“OK, Lewis, I know you can do this. You don’t have permission to do this,” he restated. Lewis’ right eyebrow raised a little and he pursed his lips as he considered what the police sargent had just told him. To make his point a little stronger, the police sargent added, “When you push some buttons, the police come.”
“Oh!” Lewis said quickly, realizing that somehow he was responsible for the police sargent being in the office with the bank manager and his mother.
“Me cannot know dis ting!” he blurted out, surprised at what he had just learned … that some buttons make people show up, seemingly from nowhere.
Over the years since that incident, the honesty and innocence that drives Lewis hasn’t changed. If you ask Lewis to do something, he’ll either tell you that he can do it or he doesn’t have the knowledge or skill set to do it. Yes, he’s still a “me can do ” or a “me cannot know dis ting” kind of guy.
I oftentimes tell parents of young children that paying attention to who their children really are will help them parent effectively over the coming years. When you understand who your child is, it’s so much easier to guide and mentor them in the direction you would like them to grow.