One of the JoyKids has been struggling with a relationship in his/her life of late.  O who are we kidding?  Those of you who have read for even a short time know full well which JoyKid it is who has struggled with a relationship.  We all know it's not a her and that it's not Jude.  We all know without having to be told that it is my beautiful, exhuberant, life-spilling-over Oliver.  O how I love this kid.  However, he's responsible - almost single-handedly - for each one of the great many grey hairs on my head.  He does life at full throttle, for good and for bad.

And so it all unfolds that Oliver has recently wrestled with a relationship in his seven-year-old life.  The relationship is with a little girl in his class.  You know by now that Oliver dislikes girls and more specifically, their attendant girl-hair at the best of times, but for whatever reason he's taken a particular dislike to this little girl.  I could speculate endlessly as to why this might be and the speculating might include observations about how both children were home-schooled last year and so perhaps their social skills aren't yet honed to a razor sharp edge and this type of thing.  The simple truth might just be that their personalities are just a bit repelled by one one another's.  Who knows?  As a grown-up myself, I know that sometimes in life I meet up with people that I just don't like very much.  I tell myself - and we tell Oliver - that this is normal.  We say things like: you don't have to like her, buddy, but you do have to be kind to her.  And things like: treat her the way you would want to be treated yourself.  

When he's unkind to her, we take away privileges like going to hockey games with his Daddy and the presence of his beloved Seal Family (see more on this, including photo on the entry dated 12/19/10.  O if only I knew how to link things up like the really fancy bloggers all seem to.).  As trite and cliche as it sounds, we just keep walking in the dark the way we learned how to in the light.  We're hoping at some point in the not-too-distant future he'll see that treating people he doesn't like with respect is the right thing to do.  And so we plod on.

In another effort to touch his sometimes gruff little heart, we've required that he do an act of kindness for her each school day.  We've told him that he has a lot of trust to rebuild with this little girl and so he makes her heart snowflakes and home-grown borax crystals and bakes her cookies.  Slowly, she seems to be warming towards him.  The mother called recently, just like in a story from Chicken Soup For the Soul.  Rarely do things turn out this beautifully wrapped in real life.  The mother wanted to apologize for her little girl's contributions to the breakdown of the relationship and said that her daughter had not been raised to behave in this way.  I told her - most emphatically - that she was preaching to the choir and that I, too, had been learning the dignity-defying lesson that our children aren't mere extensions of ourselves, doing exactly and only as we'd like, and that they are whole, albeit mini individuals who make icky choices of their own sometimes, despite what we may wish for them. 

It's nice, sometimes, to find out that other parents know how this feels.  So the mother and I commiserated a while longer on the phone and I felt powerfully lucky to be having this exchange with someone like her who was humble enough to see that her girl wasn't perfect and who was devoted enough to want to work with me on this to help our respective little people grow up to be beautiful adults.  And I've no doubt that they will.
Oliver's class is in the middle of doing a fun project where each child has to bring in and present one of his or her favorite recipes.  Since our littlest is a passionate pancake sort of guy, he's slated to bring in the following recipe this week.  They are required to go shopping for the ingredients for their recipe and also to make the actual recipe together with a loving adult in their lives.  I think it's such a creative way of introducing the little Grade Ones to things like list-making, public speaking and cooking and the consequent math  involved.  Ollie's recipe is from Barefoot Contessa's Family Style.

Makes 12 pancakes

1 ½ cups unbleached flour

3 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

½ cup sour cream

¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon milk

2 extra-large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Unsalted butter

2 ripe bananas, diced, plus extra for serving

Pure maple syrup

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Whisk together the sour cream, milk, eggs, vanilla and lemon zest.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones, mixing only until combined.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat until it bubbles.  Ladle the pancake batter into the pan.  Distribute a rounded tablespoon of bananas on each pancake.  Cook for 2-3 minutes, until bubbles appear on top and the underside is nicely browned.  Flip the pancakes and then cook for another minute, until browned.  Wipe out the pan with a paper towel, add more butter to the pan, and continue cooking pancakes until all the batter is used.  Serve with sliced bananas, butter and maple syrup.  Another fun option is to serve with maple whipped cream and blueberries.

Oliver's worldview shows us that sometimes one needs to. 

I used to think parenting was easy.  I used to think I'd have five or maybe even six kids.  I used to think I rocked at this whole parenting thing - that it was satisfyingly easy, even.  And then God sent me Oliver.  It's not that I don't love him as much as I love the others, or even that I like him less.  It's not that at all.  It's that with him, I'm forever finding myself having to teach things I never imagined I'd have to teach a child. 

Like, for example, it's not OK to belly-buck your friend on the school field.  Sometimes - I'm beginning to find - belly-bucking, because it hurts more than one might expect, can escalate to a full on wrestle match on the ground with your friend during recess.  You may have intended to begin and end with happy, laughing belly-bucking, only to find yourself sweaty and dirty and being pulled along to visit the principal by a concerned teachers' assistant.  Theoretically speaking, of course.  If you are one of the lucky ones and you have a principal who understands your heart and the fact that you are a physical little boy who needs a physical outlet and who believes in you, you may well be OK.  But not all principals have the requisite time or energy to get to know your beautiful heart and so, one might think, you'd be wise to learn early on to be less physical in your play.  Are you reading between the cryptic lines yet?

With Oliver, we have to explain why it's important to be mannerly and patient.  The other joykids understood these things instinctively when they were his age.  Their own internal policeman informed them all on his own.  With Oliver, we have to painstakingly walk him through why you shouldn't impatiently tell your friends off when you feel the first stab of irritation with them.  He doesn't suffer fools gladly.  Where Oliver is concerned, I don't wonder at his long-term success in life.  I know he'll be a world-changer.  I admire him and his indomitable spirit.  He loves God and his family with a cement-like fortitude.  No one can push him around on the inside.  Oliver is an incredible person who insists upon doing things well or not at all.  He's diligent, careful and he prides himself on his competence.  He's smart in a way that has you always writing emails about his aforementioned intelligence to your mother, because you can't believe it sometimes and everyone needs a grandma to brag to with impunity. 

But the journey between Oliver's adult self and the little six-year-old we see before us today is fraught with hills to be climbed and valleys to be carefully descended.   But I have noticed that when you get to the top of one of the more daunting hills - one of the ones you where you wondered if you'd ever reach the summit - you notice that the air is clear and bracingly beautiful.  You wonder if maybe you can't see to the ends of the Earth.  There is real clarity there and because it's been hard-earned, it fills the lungs.

I adore my Oliver and I respect him so much.  I've never liked anyone more.  Shepherding his young heart isn't easy.  But maybe the things in life really worth having are the things that require that you invest all of yourself.  Who needs five kids, anyway?
There's this little boy named Oliver.  His physical size is misleading.  He's a mere six on the earthly-years scale, but on the inside, he's the biggest and strongest person I've ever known.  When at first I discovered that the little baby I held in my awestruck arms was a person of mammoth inner proportions, I felt chagrin.  I felt things akin to personal failure and discouragement.  I wondered why his tiny self wasn't yielding to my fruitless attempts to control him.   It seemed that he bucked my systems at every.  single.  juncture. 

It seemed that he was never so uncooperative as when my attempts to control him peaked toward their zenith.  When I took him to the grocery store and tried ineffectually to display to the world my maternal competence, he would throw a fit.  A very dignity defying fit.  The kind of fit that makes the corresponding mother think to herself:   I will never judge another mother of a tantruming child in a grocery store again.  The sentiment is a healthy one.  In my case, it's a long-overdue one.  The truth is that I've struggled with some smug parenting self-righteousness over the years.  I'm ashamed to admit that I'm kind of a my-way-or-the-highway kind of girl at times; being Oliver's mother is therefore so healthy for my sometimes far-too-big-for-its-britches dignity.  Me and my burgeoning pride have been benefited by being in countless public situations featuring Oliver refusing to respond to the crossing guard's kind greeting because he doesn't feel like it, or  dismissively telling his coach, while I look on from the sidelines:  You don't need to tell me that, you know.  I already knew that.  I've come to realize that I am not my children; they are fully themselves.   I cannot take the credit  (much as I'd like to) when they soar through their special challenge classes or when they fearlessly champion the kid on the school field who is being bullied and I do not take the blame when despite my best and continued efforts, they feel like being rude to another child inviting them to a play date.  I just remind myself to keep on keeping on.  And to do as I preach endlessly to them, to be the best Me I can be.

But Oliver is a boy of special giftedness, too.  Despite the fact that he's only recently turned six, he uses phrases like, "not necessarily" and "I find that frustrating."  The incongruity between his underwhelming physical size and the largeness of the words coming (incessantly) out of his mouth brings our family great amusement.  He thinks very highly of himself and doesn't let anyone around him forget for even a millisecond that he is worthy of respect.  And respect him they do.  You can't help but concede that he's a Very Important Person.   He's also very intelligent and very funny.  His Lego and Kinex creations stun you sometimes.   He has more energy than the average newborn star.  Parenting him - depending on his mindset - either makes me feel very young or very old.  He has high standards for himself and for everyone around him.  He is painstakingly honest.   He has the loudest, most infectious laugh you ever heard.  He is an amazing reader and Mathie.   He asks me questions all day long and frequently I don't know the answer to them.   He goes with me wherever I go, and the day that finds all that changed, will feel like an empty one to me.  His dominance, his intrinsic sense of right and wrong, his passion for creating things, his quickness to hold adults to high account, his precociousness, his life-spilling-over-ness - they stretch me.  These qualities of his make me more wise, less quick to battle for dominance.  He's helped me to pick my battles and to see that I'm not the only one who sees the Way clearly.  He's my son and I'm so proud of him.  What a person.