Tonight after we finished up dinner over at my son's house we invited two of the tribe of 7 kids to come spend the night with us at our hotel. (We had the four that wanted to go to church with us stay over on Saturday night. We had promised the non-church goers that they could have an opportunity on another day.) The littlest one is adorable, but at 3 was not ready for a sleepover. So tonight we had Jacob - age 6 and Nathan, 13, join us for games, stories, and fun. Initially they were excited, chattering about how much fun it would be. Then suddenly as we were preparing to leave, Jacob melted in tears.
His little lower lip quivered and his whole body was shaking. The poor kid looked just miserable. I asked him what was wrong. In a shaky voice he finally admitted "I would miss my Mom!" Apparently the kids has had very little experience with overnights away from home. The IDEA of being with us at the hotel sounded really fun. But once he came to realize what he would have to give up in order to win this privilege, it totally freaked him out.
So we had a long heart to heart talk about what it means to make choices. I explained to him that I was inviting him, but that he did not have to come if he didn't want to. I told him that if he preferred to stay home with his mom that was totally ok, and that we could do some more fun stuff together tomorrow. However, if he did not want to spend the night tonight, we were not going to have him over on a different night for this visit. I said we might do it again next year when we came out, and maybe by then when he was bigger he might feel more comfortable. But for this year's visit the opportunity was pretty much now or never, so he would have to decide. I explained the sorts of things we planned to do if he wanted to come, but also made it clear that no one would be mad if he wanted to just stay home. The choice was entirely his.
This HUGE shudder went through his whole little body and he plaintively cried out "choosing is really, really hard."
Yep Jacob, it is.
I introduced him to the concept of "opportunity cost." I told him that every time we make a choice for something we want, we are cutting off the possibility of having the opposite alternative. I explained that no matter how much we tried to figure out which would be the best choice, sometimes we would pick well and be delighted with the outcome, and sometimes we would later regret the choice we made.
But I also explained that our ability to make good choices was a lot the the muscles in our arms and legs. I asked him if he understood that the more he exercised outside playing T-ball or soccer or other active things the stronger his body would be. This was a principle he understood well. He nodded and said how he could now jump higher, kick further and run faster than just a few months ago because he had been practicing really hard and was getting very strong.
I explained to him that the part of our brain that makes choices works the same way. In the beginning when we first start making some choices sometimes we don't get what we really want. Maybe it will make us sad when we wish we had picked something else. But I reminded him that even if he was disappointed about staying home to be with mom and missing out on a fun time with us, or if he felt a little bit scared or lonesome away from his mom if he did go along, nothing really bad could happen to him either way. I explained that we were giving him choices that were both safe and both had something good about them. So he could think about it for 5 minutes and then we were going to leave. It was totally up to him if he decided he wanted to go with us or stay home.
He vacillated quite a bit on the decision. But in the end, he didn't want his big brother to go and him be left behind. So both boys came with us, and both kids had one heck of a good time. After all, I'm a rockin' cool grandma.
As we turned out the lights and the boys settled down to go to sleep for the night Jacob said with a touch of reverence and awe in his voice: "Grandma, this was really fun. It was a good choice."
As I think of some of the choices I've made, I do understand the struggle the little guy faced, and know how hard it can be sometimes. Should I pick door number 1 or door number 2?
It won't always work out well. But if I can surround myself with people who love me and then take a chance, as often as not I'll find blessings through either route, and if not I'll have safe hands to catch me when I fall.
Thanks, Jacob, for reminding me of that. And you were right. It was a lot of fun.