I introduced a star chart to the house recently, the aim being that if the Boys complete a certain number of the tasks listed on it each day - and record that fact by awarding themselves a star - they will qualify for their pocket money at the end of every week. To be honest, I thought it would be a good idea as much to act as a prompt for me to remember to give them their earnings (I believe I currently owe them around £10 each) as for them to remember to do the tasks in the first place.
We've had mixed results so far; Boy #2 is still having to be cajoled into clearing the table, for example, and needing rather more help to do it than I would like (one serviette on the kitchen worktop does not a cleared table make), but what the hell, he is only 5. He'll get there in the end. Boy #1 is a lot keener to increase his total of stars each day, and I imagine that's because he has a better grasp of the disposable income he can access than his younger brother does. However, he too has a very different view of what the various tasks listed actually entail than Husband and I do.
Which is where my statement about growing up comes in. This morning at breakfast, Husband was explaining to Boy #1 that 'laying the table' doesn't only mean fetching your own place mat, spoon, and glass to the table, but that it also covers doing the same thing for everyone else in the family. (Note; the fetching and carrying distance involved is approximately 2 metres...). Boy #1 was aghast. Laying the table - for everyone? Every day? That wasn't at all what he signed up to when he, his brother and I sat down to agree the list of tasks on the star chart...
In the past, when confronted with such an unpalatable fact as this, there would have been moaning and complaining aplenty. A bit of wailing, possibly. A lot of noise, definitely. This time, though, he simply went very quiet whilst processing this information. He stared into the middle distance. He teared up, a little. And then, as I watched, he tried to smile it away.
We spotted it, of course. Husband gave him a hug, and tried to explain that laying the table wasn't the prison sentence it seemed to him at that moment in time. We told him that we were proud of the fact that he was trying to be grown up about it.
But I watched him trying to moderate his emotions, to act in a grown-up way, to do what he knew was the reasonable thing, and I'm not ashamed to say that the sight of my seven year old son doing this made me want to cry, too.
I'm not sure why. Maybe because I know that it's just the start of a lifetime of biting his tongue, of holding back. I'm not saying that's always - or even usually - a bad thing, mind you. God help us if we all gave in to our emotions and stamped our feet and shouted 'but it's not fair!' every time things didn't work out as we wanted. It's just that, well, he's my son. And I love him, and want to protect him. And perhaps, watching him struggle to control himself and retain his equilibrium when faced with this realisation - even though it was something so trivial - gave me a brief foretaste of how it's going to feel to have to watch him do the same thing as he deals with the - I hope, not too frequent - disappointments that life will throw at him as a matter of course.
He's nearly 8 years old. I have to step back and let him learn to take the rough with the smooth; I can't always make it better for him. But it's going to be very hard to resist the impulse to wrap him up in cotton wool whenever clouds loom on his horizon.
It's said that this parenting lark doesn't get any easier as your kids get older. I think I'm beginning to get a faint understanding of what that actually means...