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Colors Upstairs


Sometimes at night when I’m tucking in Squiggle I like to tell him things I like about him, things I’m proud of him for doing. I do that with Little Drummer Boy, too, but Squiggle seems to need it more sometimes. I don’t know if it’s because he has been slower to use verbal skills and more prone to losing control of his little emotions, or if it’s simply because he has a brother who so easily (and rampantly) uses verbal skills and can just do more because he’s older. But, Squiggle sometimes seems wanting for affirmation. He has a sensitive and pondering spirit (when he’s not squealing) that tells me there is always a lot going on internally.

Through the parenting stages of teaching early boundaries, it’s easy to get caught up in discipline and correction. So, I sometimes use those tender bedtime moments to confirm his steps toward kindness and obedience, to acknowledge the new lessons and skills he’s learning and to encourage the blossoming of his lively spirit. At least that’s what I tell myself. I think sometimes I just don’t want the seemingly constant threat of a spanking to be what he thinks about as he drifts off to sleep.

I usually start with, “Mommy is so proud of you. You did a good job tonight of….” At that point, Squiggle invariably says, “colors upstairs.” It’s an odd reference, I know. First, it took me a while even to understand what he was saying. Then, it took a while to understand what he meant. We have lots of colors, but we don’t have an upstairs–unless you consider the 5 or 6 steps you go down to Daddy’s office, the laundry room and the back door to be the downstairs.

After a few repeated “colors upstairs,” I finally got it. At our preschool, Squiggle’s room is downstairs and Little Drummer Boy’s room is upstairs. Squiggle has walked the steps with me a few times to get LDB. On the wall above the steps is a cut-out “WELCOME” taped to the wall, and every letter is a different color. Each time he’s gone upstairs, Squiggle has proudly named each color in order as he’s climbed each step. And, I’m sure one of us exclaimed at what a good job he did.

It may be memorable to him because of the fact that he accomplished naming the colors while navigating the steps or because Mommy or Daddy made a big deal about it. Regardless, something about that experience stuck in his mind as a great accomplishment. So, when I start to enumerate the ways in which I’m proud of Squiggle, his interjection of the “colors upstairs” example serves to affirm something in his little spirit.

I’m continually amazed by the moments–seemingly mundane and insignificant–that stand out as important, even treasured in a child’s mind. And, it gives me pause to consider how such a routine, half-forgotten word of praise can have such long-lasting impact. My husband lost his father in an accident when he was just 6 years old. I could barely listen during the times he’s recounted the very few memories he has of his dad–brief flashes, a slight touch, a fleeting feeling–and how precious they are to him. I’m sure he thinks of them sometimes just to make sure he can still remember.

I don’t want my boys and Baby Girl to have to think hard as time marches on. If I’m blessed with a lifetime with each of them, I want to give an abundance of remembered praises and proud moments and congratulations for simple things like a “lellow” W. All too often, it’s easy to forget that secure, confident, hopeful children grow into secure, confident, hopeful grown-ups who can give the gifts of security, confidence and hope to others. Thus, the moment that begins on a walk upstairs next to colorful letters cut out of cardstock extends for generations.

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