Wednesday, January 29, 2014

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My Son is a Spaz: A lesson in heredity (Part III)


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I started feeling better about Tristan growing up to be a spaz after Christmas 2013. My mother got Tristan a toy that helps kids learn how to put together simple electric circuits called Snap Circuits. It’s really a cool little thing. More or less, it comes with a plastic board with snaps on it, a bunch of electrical parts (resisters, lights, motors…), and over 100 schematics.
The day after Christmas Tristan and I sat down and we built a few projects. We were both dressed casually. Tristan was in his new Skylanders t-shirt and shorts he got for Christmas, and I was in sweat pants and a t-shirt. Norah was in her room playing with a new baby doll she got for Christmas, and Mel was messing around with the iPad. More or less, it was just Tristan and myself, in Tristan’s room. No distractions, just a father and son lying on the floor, working on some projects. 

First we built an FM radio. It took a little bit to figure out how the schematics read, and Tristan lost a little bit of focus during our confusion.
“We should just quit,” he said. Let’s just watch a movie.”
“No. No,” I said. “Let’s stick this out. I really want to see if this works.”
Tristan looked me in the eyes and said, “Okay. Let’s do it.”
It took us about twenty minutes to build the radio. Most of that time was spent finding all the parts we needed. But it worked, and Tristan was fascinated by what we created.
Next we built a motor siren with flashing lights. Tristan took the lead on this project. And lastly we hooked power up to a small motor with a helicopter attachment. With this project, I just sat back and watched Tristan do it himself.
I watched him with excitement. Tristan showed patience and concentration. It was a couple hours of us working together, and during that time he showed focus, his little blue eye never wavering, his hands moving with a calculation that I’d never seen from him before.
This was something I didn’t have at his age. I couldn’t sit still long enough to put together a project like the one we were working on. I didn’t have the focus. And if someone else were near, helping me work on the project, I’d have found some way to try and make them laugh. Perhaps I’d have put something on backwards, or made a fart sound, or who knows what, as a way to divert attention from the project to myself. But Tristan never did that. And as I watched him work, I felt a burst of pride. I felt hope that he had more control over himself that I assumed. More control than I had at his age. And I wondered if working alongside Tristan on a project that demanded focus was the way to help him learn how to concentrate. I’ve mentioned this before, but my Dad wasn’t around much when I was young. He never took the opportunity to sit down and teach me how to do a project. Perhaps me being there made the difference. Perhaps that’s what I needed all along.
I like to compare myself to Tristan, and in doing that, I often forget that he is not me. He is a very different person, with very different hopes and dreams. Sure he is my son. He looks a lot like me. And it is expected that he might have some of my personality traits. But he is also his own complicated little self. I need to remind myself of that. Remind myself that he is going to have a very different life than I did, with different challenges. And unlike my childhood, I have every intention of working along side him as he makes the journey into adulthood. 

What I want for Tristan is the best. I want him to know how to control himself. To know when it is appropriate to be calm and collective, and when it is appropriate to cut loose and make a joke or two. I want him to be able to focus on something, to see it through, and to not get distracted by his desire for attention. And as I watched him show command over his own actions, to show focus and control, I saw a little glimpse of his future. I started to realize that he already had some of those qualities; he just needed me to help develop them. And perhaps worrying about it wasn’t getting me anywhere. And getting frustrated with his Burrito language, that wasn’t helping either. Perhaps what I need to do is stop trying to control him, but instead sit down with him, and work on a few projects that grab his attention. 

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.