Friday, February 6, 2009

February, 2009-- Jacob version 2.0

I was doing dishes in the kitchen last week when Jacob came in and started unloading the dishwasher. While generally, dishwasher unloading is a job that belongs to the kids, I had yet not asked anyone to empty it. Jacob proceeded to empty not just the glass items, which are traditionally his responsibility, but also the silverware and plastic things that his brother and sisters usually put away.
            “Who are you and what have you done with Jacob?” I said to him. Jacob smiled—he knew what I meant. While I would never describe Jacob as unhelpful, he usually needs to be reminded to do his jobs around the house.
            “Is this a new and improved version of Jacob?” I continued. “I like it.”
            “Version 2.0,” he said, alluding to system upgrades on computers that get a new number each time.
            It does feel like Jacob, at 14, has received a recent upgrade. It’s nothing dramatic—upgrades seldom are. It’s the same Jacob but with more power and stronger capabilities. I’m sure some of the things that are new for Jacob—baking and filling out his own applications for programs, for example—are things some kids younger than him have been doing for years. Likewise one of his other new skills—  giving short, age-appropriate yet insightful lectures on behavior to his younger sisters—might be a task that some young parents haven’t yet mastered. But in some ways, it doesn’t matter where other people are their own developmental trajectory. I can only compare Jacob at 14 to Jacob at 12 or 13, and I’m seeing progress.
            Jacob Version 2.0 has made me stop and think about progress made by my other children, as well. Sometimes it’s hard to be aware of progress. All three of them—ages five, seven and ten—seem to require a lot of coaching just to simply fulfill the most basic components of civilized life. I say the words, “Now go brush your teeth,” approximately 8 times per day—one for each of them, morning and night, plus a couple extras on average, thrown in. (And this isn’t even counting the follow-up question, “Did you brush your teeth?”) I remind them to eat and to bathe; to not leave their things in the middle of the room or on the stairs; to wear boots; to do homework; to turn off lights; to say please and thank you; to go to bed; to use the bathroom (just one of them); and to not interrupt.
            But if I look closely enough, I realize that for each of them, there are things that I no longer need to say—things they have internalized without my noticing the exact day it happened. Like Jacob, my three younger children are also becoming upgraded versions of themselves. As a parent, it’s so easy to look ahead—what do I want my child to be able to do next—that we can lose sight of how far they’ve come.
            Jamie no longer needs four time-outs per day just to follow directions. When she was three and four, she spent so much time on the little step near the front door, I worried that we were scarring her for life—she seemed to test Bill and me more than the boys ever had. Now that she’s five, though, she’s down to about two time-outs a week. Mostly, she listens and follows directions. It’s not perfect, but it’s progress.
            When T entered our home as a foster child a year ago, she could not stand it if Jamie received anything that she didn’t—a hug; a compliment; a treat bag from a birthday party. After year of hearing our refrain “Different things for different people,” though, T now understands her turn will come and is rarely jealous of her little sister.
            A year ago, every piano lesson and practice session for Liam ended with him in tears—soggy piano keys and Bill and I wondering why we were paying for something that made our son cry.  Now, after a few tweaks to practice times and the change to a new teacher, Liam bounds off to lessons and proudly plays for grandparents when they come over. Progress.
            And just as I look for upgrades in my own children, I picture God the parent looking for upgrades in us. Knowing we’re not perfect, that we still have far to go, but celebrating our progress nonetheless. God, waiting patiently, helping us move towards the version of ourselves that we need to become.
            Welcome Jacob 2.0. And welcome to the upgraded Liam, T and Jamie. I look forward to seeing future versions.


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