Thursday, March 1, 2012

Max's Love Language

At our last church small group meeting we were all talking about the joys and exasperations of parenting when a friend brought up the book The Five Love Languages of Children. Greg and I both thought it seemed like something we wanted to read, and quick. With four small children underfoot, it's easy to overlook them as individuals.

Fast forward a few days: we had just returned home from a trip to the Children's Museum, and Max was melting down in the middle of the kitchen floor. I always describe Max as an emotional child, but I'm not quite sure that description does him justice... the boy can go from laughing to screaming to crying - and back again - in a ten second period. I try desperately to model calm in the midst of Max's meltdowns, but it is no easy task. Let's just say Max didn't inherit his emotional tendencies from his father. He'd been down in the classroom trying to do something and had raced upstairs frustrated when things didn't go the way he wanted them to. This was about the fifth or sixth time that day that I had been forced to stop what I was doing to mitigate one of Max's emotional firestorms. I was tired. I was annoyed.

"Calm down. CALM DOWN! What in heaven's name is WRONG NOW?!" I fought with my voice to keep it from getting louder.

"I'm trying to draw Ironman and I can't!" he yelled. "I NEED a picture of Ironman!"

Then, timidly, "Will you help me Mom?"

My first inclination was to tell him absolutely not, this is not how he asks for something, he is five years old now and needs to stop these tantrums, doesn't he know I already spent the entire morning entertaining him at the Children's Museum and THIS is how he thanks me, forget about Ironman and go to your room.

In a moment I can only credit to God and His unending grace, I stopped myself from saying that, put down the loaf of bread I had out to make lunch, and followed him down the stairs.

I sat down at the tiny table next to him and looked at the blank piece of paper he handed me with a little smile on his face. I was about to explain that Dad is really the artist in the family, and I don't even know who Ironman is, but I sensed that this was not the time to split hairs.

"Well, I'll try, buddy. You know, I'm not very good at drawing. But, ummm," I picked up a red marker, "I'll try."

All I know is that I started out with a giant rectangle and went from there. I drew hats and antennae and briefcases full of weapons, all while Max, his head on my shoulder, directed and encouraged me.

"So, does that look like Ironman's face?" I asked.

"Yup," he answered with a smile.

"Okay, and does Ironman have, maybe, a belt or something?"

"Sure," he answered with a smile.

Every time I thought the picture was complete, Max would come up with another thing I needed to add - another sword, another button, an extra belt. Our Ironman was becoming seriously overaccessorized, but Max didn't seem to care; he just didn't want our time together to end. After finishing up Ironman and adding a portrait of R2D2, we walked back up the stairs together.

"Mom, you're pretty good at drawing Ironman," he said with a little smile.

As I returned to lunch-making I started thinking about Max's love language. Is it gifts? What about drawing - should we do some art classes?

Later, in a quiet moment, I heard God's still small voice in my heart as I folded a basket of laundry. What matters to that little boy, He said, is not robots or weapons or art classes. It's time. Time with you. Time with his dad. Time to be appreciated, to be held and cuddled, to be told how smart and funny he is without anyone else running in and stealing your attention.  He doesn't need all day, I understood Him say. He just needs a little bit, every day.

Max's love language is time.

Word cannot convey how much I love this little boy. I've learned so much about myself from teaching him. What a privilege it is to be his mom.

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