Words That Live in the Bones

I remember some of the most random things from my childhood. Some moments of shame. Some filled with hilarity. Some with poignant melancholy.

And some that teach an important lesson.

When I was 9 or 10, my family spent the evening at the home of some family friends. Oreos were on the menu for dessert. Simple and effective.

They were gone by the time I went to get some, however. When I complained, my mom shrugged it off and said we had some at home and that I could have some later.

I took this as a binding contract, sealed in blood with solemn oaths.

I think my mother forgot.

We left later than expected, and as we were getting in the van to go home, my parents said we would need to go straight to bed.

“But I get some Oreos, right?”

“No,” my mother said, her head turning to look at me from the front seat. “You heard what I said. Straight to bed.”

I took this as a grave injustice. A broken promise that shattered the trust between a parent and child. How dare she?!

I seethed with bitterness on the way home, and I think for the next few days. In typical child melodrama, I declared in my mind that I would never trust her again!

Over Oreos.

I’ve eaten many of them since then.

This is not a dig at my mom, whose generosity knows no bounds. She probably doesn’t even remember this event. We got to stay out later than normal and play with our friends longer, so in the grand scheme of things, I got the better end of the deal. That is worth way more than a quick sugar rush.

But I still remember it to this day. That bitterness dug deep.

And it provides some lessons for me today as I parent my own children.

Children remember more than you think. They absorb more than they let on. Tease out what they are thinking. Let them speak.

Above all, let your yes be yes, and your no be no. Children can smell hypocrisy and injustice (toward them) like a bloodhound. If you make a promise, no matter how innocuous, do your best to keep it.

If you can’t keep your promise, then apologize and explain to them why. How are you going to make it up to them as restitution? Treat your own words as if they have weight to them and then show your children how to do it themselves.

Because they will remember. And when they heed the voice of their father, they need to feel the surety of his words down in their very bones. Your words need to live there and give them strength.

Do not train them to treat your voice as if it was a leaf fluttering in the wind.

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