I was just laying in bed with Sarah and our youngest child. He’s just a little bit over one year old.
Codename: Cutie Snoo. (Because I don’t like using my kid’s real names online.)
I don’t know how it works in other households, but in ours, a lot of the day-to-day kid activities end up happening on the bed. Sarah has a huge king-sized mattress that just rests on the floor. Partly because she likes it that way, and partly because low-to-the ground beds are easier and safer for kids.
Anyway, I’m laying in bed with Cutie. I’d come in to hang play with him when I heard him wake up from his nap. A little later, mom joined us, because she has the boobs, and boobs make everything better.
Cutie was laying between us, nursing (on Sarah) while she and I were talking.
Then, unexpectedly, Cutie rolled over and pushed a little baby spoon he carries around with him at my mouth.
It surprised me. It bounced off my lip a little bit, and hit my teeth. It hurt just a little, about as much as it would if you poked me in the mouth with your fingernail. We’re talking… like… half a newton of force, tops. Not enough to crack an egg.
Still, it surprised me. And it hurt just a little.
So I looked at him, and I said, “Ow.”
Didn’t shout it, didn’t bark it. Didn’t even do my disappointed dad voice.
I mention this because over the years I’ve learned my voice is a powerful thing. Where my kids are concerned, I’m one of the Bene Gesserit. I’m the Kwisatz Paterach. I’m Black Bolt.
I’m not sure why this is, exactly. I’ve got a pretty good baritone, but it’s not earthshaking by itself. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been a teacher. That I’ve been a singer. That I was a performer who never really liked using a mic until the crowds started topping 100 people and I was forced to go electric.
Maybe it’s all of those things together. I don’t know.
What I do know is that I discovered early on in my parenting career that if I wasn’t careful with my voice, I would terrify my children. Once, back when he was about 16 months old, I barked Oot’s name at him from the top of a stairway and he went into fetal crouch, trembling with animal fear.
I felt like king asshole of the universe at the time. I still do. As a parent, you slowly build a portfolio of memories. Things your children will never remember, things that you will never forget.
Standing at the top of the stairs, looking down at my terrified boy, I thought to myself, “You need to get this shit under control right now, Rothfuss…”
So I did. Slowly. Over many years.
All of this is to say that I’m very careful with my voice these days. I don’t bark. I rarely even snap or get a little sharp in my tone. There’s no need, just a little disapproval in my voice is like iron to these tiny little faen creatures I have flitting around in my life.
So. Remember where we were? Bed. Cutie. Spoon.
I looked at him and said, “Ow.” Not because he hurt me, but because I want him to know that he *can* hurt someone. He needs to learn to be careful.
“Ow,” I said. Softly.
Hearing me, Cutie turned away, facing back toward mom.
“He was trying to give you a bite,” she explained to me.
I nodded, only understanding then what he’d been trying to do with the spoon. It’s a game I’d seen Cutie play with her, but he’d never done it with me before.
Looking down at him, Sarah’s face goes concerned, then she looks up at me. “He feels bad,” she says.
Then Cutie gave a little sob. It was tiny, but it was one of those deep ones. One of the ones that comes out of you in a lump: “Uh-huh.”
When you’re a parent, you learn the different types of crying. You learn to recognize the panicked cry of a baby that’s hurt. There’s the “I can’t believe you took that away from me” cry. There’s the “I’m tired and can’t hold my shit together” cry. There’s the rare, furious red-faced rage rage rage cry. There’s the “Where’s Mom?” cry.
This wasn’t any of those. It went, “Ah-huh” and it was nothing but sadness. One sob. Pause. Then another. Then he was really crying.
He felt bad. He was sad that he’d hurt me.
I read something somewhere that said children start to develop empathy when they’re 3 years old.
I’d like to officially go on the record as saying that is bullshit.
Cutie is 13 months old. He can speak about 10 words, and those he speaks badly. He can’t run, or jump, or eat with a spoon.
But he feels bad when he hurts someone. This is something some adults have yet to learn.
He’s is my boy. My sweet boy. I am so proud of him.