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On my wife’s suggestion, we visited a wildlife refuge yesterday and my 13yo started complaining before we got out of the car. Naturally, I listened to him discuss his hardships in all “I” statements. “I don’t want to be here”, “I don’t want to walk”, “I hate this.”
Eventually he asked me this question: do you want to be here?
“Not really,” I said.
“Then why did you go?” He asked like he’d really found some hole in the plot of my life.
“Because visiting this place isn’t about me. It’s about your mom, and I love her, so I went.”
He gave me this long confused, why would a gown human do anything they didn’t want to do, look.
“Well I think this place is stupid and if I could drive I’d be out of here,” he said.
I thought about laying into him. I thought about telling him to suck it up and be a good sport, but I had a feeling he would just dig in his heels, and act like a martyr, when what I really wanted was for him to understand an important lesson about what love actually looks like.
“Listen, I love mom and she loves these sorts of places, so I go without complaining because that’s what love looks like.”
He rolled his eyes, and said “going to a wildlife refuge has nothing to do with love.”
“Oh son, it totally does. When you love someone, it can’t just be words. It’s got to be actions, too.”
I raised my hands and gestured to the swamp land and the boardwalk, and the signs describing the animals habitats.
“Going to a place like this when you don’t really want to is the purest form of love.”
He clearly didn’t like my answer.
“Listen, love can’t always be about you. Chances are you are going to fall in love some day, and that person might be perfect for you, but you will still be different people. And sometimes being in love with someone means going shopping for something that isn’t for you, or to a restaurant that you don’t really like, but your partner does. And if you want that person to know that you love them, you don’t complain, and you don’t call the thing stupid. You just go because you want to see them be happy. And do you know what happens when you do that?”
“What” he said.
“That person feels appreciated,” I said.
Then I pointed at his mother who was grinning ear to ear as she took a picture of a great white heron.
He thought about what I said. He kicked the dirt. Then he said, “fine.”
It wasn’t an angry “fine” or an I don’t like it “fine” but an “I understand fine.”
And by the time we made it back to the car to go home my wife looked at our son and said, “you’ve been very quiet.” He looked at his mother, and shrugged, and in so many ways what he was really saying was “I love you.
Source: Jacqui Knight