You know those parenting books that suggest you deal with bad behavior by waiting for, and rewarding, the good? If you're anything like me, you're thinking, "If I could but find ONE MOMENT of praiseworthy behavior, I wouldn't even be asking the question . . . "
Andrew has always been a rather noisy chap, and far from abating as he aged, the range of squeaks, grunts, hums and honks has greatly increased—most especially when we're at Mass, trying to maintain at least a modicum of reverence. Andrew: "Honk—click—HMMMMM—grunt—splort"
Me, in hushed tones: "Andrew, you need to be quieter; people will think you're weird."
Andrew, looking stricken: OK, sorry-sorry-sorry." (Pause) "HMMMMMMM—snort—honk—splurt!" etc.
Now, I know enough about human nature to realize that when there's a problem in a relationship, trying to change the other person is invariably a lost cause. But try as I might, I simply could not ignore the cacophony emitted by my second son. What could be done? It was a stalemate.
Then I happened to read in No Bad Dogs, a dog training book by Barbara Woodhouse, about the extraordinary effectiveness of physical touch: a touch which "calms the wild dog, . . . produces ecstasy in dogs when you caress them." She continues, "I lay my face alongside the dog's (which is) cupped in my hands, and I sense that my deep love and admiration for it passes right through to its mind . . ." In other words, touch brings about a telepathic communication. If it worked for Barbara Woodhouse and her dogs, could it work for my second son and me?
I had no doubts about Andrew's receptiveness; I was more concerned about me.
Could I overcome my natural restraint and reserve, and abandon myself to praising Andrew? Could I touch his shoulder as he hunched over his morning bowl of cornflakes, rice milk and banana, and transmit my deep love and admiration for him? Could I really put all that into a touch? How about my tone of voice; could I make it convey great joy to Andrew—tell him that I think him the most wonderful young man on earth?
I had reckoned without one thing: the astonishing power of words. In the beginning, God used words to call all created things into being: now, He was using the power of the spoken word to heal a mother and her son. As I spoke words of love and admiration to Andrew, blow me down if my feelings didn't follow suit! It was easy for me to make my touch tell him of my deep admiration, because thanks to the verbal affirmations, I really believed it! I thought of books that advised couples who want to feel more love in their marriage to act as though they are in love, and I recognized that this was exactly what I was doing. And it was working!
Of course, it hasn't all been wine and roses: my husband, who had been getting quite sentimental about the forthcoming farewell, was brought back to reality with a vengeance this evening when he found that Drew had just unloaded all the dirty dishes from the dishwasher, and painstakingly put them away in cupboards and drawers. What do you do with a 31 year old who has no clue about clean and dirty?
Hold his face in your hands, lay your cheek against his, and tell him that you love him absolutely, unconditionally, and forever.
Use words if you have to.