During the school holidays, my boys and I took a ride on the cable car from Wellington city up to the Botanical Gardens. The woman seated next to one of my sons noticed he had a football with him.
“Have you been playing a game today?” she asked him, pointing to his ball.
“No”, he said, barely audible and not lifting his gaze from the floor.
She had a friendly manner and seemed to understand that a child might need time to warm up so she persisted a little. I appreciated the effort she was making to engage my son in conversation but was embarrassed by his lack of response. Rightly or wrongly, I ended up explaining myself that we’d been to a park to kick a ball around with a friend earlier in the day.
Normally, my son would’ve made an effort to talk with her. He, too, is naturally friendly and outgoing and, over recent months, has learned how to participate in conversation, rather than giving mono-syllabic answers. The offer of a conversation about football would usually need no prodding.
As the cable car eased itself up the hill, I silently scripted an educational parenting conversation about how rude my son been and what he could’ve said to the woman. Then, I caught myself. The issue here was not that he’d been rude or needed more coaching on how to make conversation. The issue was that he wasn’t feeling himself.
What had happened that he hadn’t made the effort he usually would? I’d noticed that his mood had turned ten minutes before we’d got on the cable car, as we were leaving the toy shop. Was it just that he wanted longer to browse the toys or was there something more going on?
When we got off the cable car, I asked him if something was wrong. He told me he didn’t want to talk about it yet and ran ahead, dribbling his football along the path. Later, I learned that, while at the shop, he’d been been sternly told off for playing with one of the toys. Unused to being admonished by gruff strangers, I knew this would’ve rattled him and was glad I hadn’t pressured him about not making conversation on the cable car when we was already down.
It was a reminder that there are times to bite my tongue and times to take the opportunity to teach my children. As the Serenity Prayer says, it’s about having the wisdom to know the difference.