This afternoon I was watching my son Hunter crush the baseball at batting practice. As I watched him, I was amazed at how much he has grown up and how mature he is becoming. Besides being very athletically gifted, at 14, he practices being a gentleman and genuinely works on using good manners and being the type of person that makes a Dad proud. Don’t get me wrong, he can still be a big-time goofball. He is 14 after all. But as I sat watching Hunter I began thinking about all the times this boy made me laugh. And aside from swelling with pride when he holds the door open for others and is the first to jump up and offer to help, his ability to make me laugh has been one of my life’s great blessings. As I was watching him at practice I became nostalgic and remembered this:
When Hunter was two he was beyond energetic. He was precocious and had a motor that kept his mouth engaged at all times. He spoke quicker than an auctioneer and most of his sentences began with a why, what, how, or where. He was usually less interested in the actual answer than in the opportunity to ask 3 more questions before you could answer the first.
It’s almost Christmas and Hunter is walking onto the stage with the rest of his “Mother’s Day Out” classmates. The Mother’s Day Out program is just what it sounds like. It is an acknowledgement that mothers have to get away and have to get out. It’s an acknowledgement that Mothers have to talk to someone who doesn’t answer every question with the word “why”. The Mother’s Day Out program is the bridge my wife uses to maintain her sanity and keep in touch with the real world. Two mornings per week she gets four hours of peace. For two blissful mornings she doesn’t have to wipe anyone’s backsides or pull rocks out of anyone’s nose.
The group of two-year olds from the “Turtle” class, my son’s class, is about to sing their rendition of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" for camera-toting parents and adoring grandparents. Hunter and his classmates have been working for weeks on singing the song, staying on stage without running in fear, making it all of the way to the end of the song without putting their fingers in their nose or having to take a potty break. Generally the real goal is just showing up and proving to Mom and Dad that they have the most talented two year old on the face of the earth. The stage is set up as Noah’s Ark and the kids are ready.
As the music begins, Hunter picks up his bells and rings them almost in time with the song that is being piped in over the p.a. system. Cameras everywhere are clicking as 8 two-year-olds ring their bells and sing the words they remember to Rudolph. Parents are smiling at each other in approval and the music teacher, in a clear sweat, is praying that the song ends peacefully and quickly.
About half way through the song Hunter has lost interest in singing and has already figured out that he can’t fit the bell into his nose, ear, or any other available orifice and is now taking in his surroundings. He looks around and realizes that he is standing in the middle of the stage. He also sees that in front of him, just below eye level, is a microphone. There is a moment when you can actually see his little brain kick into gear when he realizes he could control the microphone. As I zoom the camera in on Hunter you can hear me begin to laugh because I know what is coming. At one point you can actually hear me daring him to pick up the microphone and sing. My wife also sees the look in Hunter’s eye and as I glance at her I can see she is already planning her escape route.
Hunter has an older sister who owns a karaoke machine and he knows exactly what the microphone is and what to do with it. Without hesitation and with an unearthly gleam in his eye, Hunter reaches for and grabs the microphone. By this time I’m having a hard time holding the video camera still because I’m laughing so hard. My laughter comes from a combination of glee for my son and the hilarity of watching my wife try to curl up into the fetal position under the church pew.
As the P.A. system continues to play Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer a new voice is heard over the bells and over the music. Smiles from parents start turning into gut-laughs as 7 two-year olds are all turned looking at Hunter as he sings his own version of Rudolph into the microphone. And Hunter’s version doesn’t necessarily go with the original version. Although barely discernible, you can hear the name Rudolph so you know he is singing the right song, he sings at the top of his lungs and even throws in a few hip gyrations for effect during the “Ho..Ho..Ho” sequence. And since Hunter hadn’t memorized the entire song, when it got to a part he didn’t know he just made it up... and usually when Hunter makes something up it involves the word “poop”. You can imagine that by this point my wife is watching from the floor underneath the pew where she is praying for a power failure.
As the other children watch Hunter and an auditorium full of parents laugh and try to coax their little ones into continuing to sing, Hunter’s Mom ducks her head and prays that he will put the microphone down and just act like the other kids. On the other hand, I am laughing so hard I have given up on focusing the video camera and there is not a hint of embarrassment in me. I couldn’t be prouder. Hunter finishes his song and looks down upon an adoring audience who give him a standing ovation. Mom is mortified, I’m bursting with pride, and Hunter knows he has gotten away with something. He stops and takes a deep bow as he exits the stage.
This one instance proved to me the undeniable difference between Mom and Dad. Mom was looking forward to the Christmas pageant and had bought Hunter matching pants and sweater with a Christmas theme. She talked it up to Hunter as a great event that would be such great fun. She was genuinely looking forward to seeing a bunch of kids sing bad Christmas songs.
I whined all the way to the program because I was pretty sure that there was a good game on that night somewhere. When the events unfolded Mom’s excitement turned to horror. Hunter did something that broke the rules and drew unplanned attention to him, and ultimately to her, because as Hunter was singing every other mom in the place tried to make eye contact with my wife. And when eye contact was made they feigned sympathy and then turned to their husbands with that “see I told you so” look.
I, on the other hand, could not have been happier. Hunter took a boring song, in the middle of a boring Christmas program, and he spiced it up. Not only was I not bored, I was the envy of all the other Dads. My son was the rebel. He was the non-conformist. He exhibited bravery. He was the conqueror of the dreaded Christmas program.
On the way home my wife blamed me for Hunter’s behavior. She said that I was the reason he had taken over the program. She said I was the reason that “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” was not given its proper due. And I took that as a compliment. My son! The Rebel! The Hit of the Show! The Leader!
I watched Hunter hit another fastball deep into left field. He turned and looked at me for approval. It was the same look he had thrown my way 12 years ago. He is such a good kid. But then again, my son is one of the blessed ones because he has a mom and a dad who tell him that he is good every day. He has a family unit that provides the shelter in the storm of life. So many kids don’t have that emotional safety net. So today, challenge yourself to remember and laugh at the fun times with your kids and your students. Then challenge yourself to build up someone who doesn’t have a mom and a dad at home telling them they are the best person on earth. Every kid needs someone to tell them they are special – because they truly are.