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Life is a Nutcracker

I have an eleven-year-old boy’s sense of humor lying dormant inside, or so my family tells me. When it occasionally surfaces, I find myself giggling uncontrollably until the point of tears. (You know, church laughter—the inability to stop oneself from laughing at inappropriate times.

In case you’re anything like me in that regard, let’s just address the Nutcracker double entendre. Yes, it is deliberate. And, yes, I giggled.

Moving on.

My son’s fifth-grade class is going on a field trip to see the Nutcracker Ballet this week. Between the past few years’ Covid restrictions and his natural affinity for all things sports, he has spent scant (zero?) time in a proper theater.

He asked me if I thought he would like The Nutcracker. My first honest, silent thought was ummm, NO.

Thankfully, I paused to edit said thought before it left my mouth. Instead I replied, Well, I think you’ll have moments when you are bored and moments you’ll enjoy it. It might feel quite long. Sit next to a friend and stay out of trouble.

(Not bad in a pinch, huh? Now and again I do impress myself.)

I thought back to my daughter, who, beginning at age two, sat blissfully rapt through the entire ballet many years in a row. Please know, my prediction for my son has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with my kids’ two dissimilar personalities.

Adding insult to injury, I informed my son that he will also need to dress up for the ballet. (read: no typical, daily athleisure wear)

Whaaat?!, he replied incredulously. Two times in one week?!

(The other will be for his mandatory participation in the 5th Grade Winter Concert. He’ll have filled his fancy, non-voluntary quota for the year in one fell swoop.)

My first reaction to this was compassion (lack of autonomy is hard) mixed with discomfort as an automatic reflex to his discomfort, followed quickly by a brief, strong desire to fix, ease the unpleasantness, and make him happy.

All of this in seconds.

And then I remembered that a bit of discomfort is good for our kids. It’s healthy for our kids to suffer once in a while (and by suffer I mean feel uncomfortable while remaining safe and healthy)—suffer as in boredom, restlessness, unpleasantness.

It’s practice for life. You know, when the unforeseen happens. When life events act as a metaphorical nutcracker of sorts.

It’s also healthy for us parents to remember that it is character-building. That, despite our immediate reaction of wanting to spare them discomfort, ultimately we do them no favors by rescuing.

It’s a freeing mindset shift to know that there are times jumping in to fix may actually rob our kids of the opportunity to problem-solve and grow some grit, inadvertently sending them the message that we’re not sure they can handle it. Sometimes nothing needs to be done save us sitting back to lovingly observe and catch their fall when needed.

Of course my son’s Nutcracker predicament is of the minor sort. Refraining from parental fixing becomes markedly more challenging as the potential stakes increase. Regardless, we do well to pause and assess before immediately reacting.

In my son’s case, I anticipate his suffering will be both minor and short-lived—boredom and restlessness all dressed up in a pressed button-down shirt and unforgiving pants sans elastic waistband. Perhaps, going forward, he will be a bit more resilient and prepared.

We should be so lucky that this is the worst of it. Life will happen. Challenges will arise. Nuts will be cracked.

Who knows? Maybe he’ll prove me wrong. Either way, it’s an opportunity of growth for us both—and that, after all, is a large part of what I aim for as a parent.

I’ll be sure to report back and let you know how it goes.


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