Saturday, December 7, 2013

Learnings From a Two-Year-Old

My older son is two years-old. He will be three in November. We call him a "boy boy," which is code for him being very physical. He likes to run and wrestle. He likes to explore, try new things, and finds the world interesting. Sometimes, most times, it's an amazing quality. He learns colloquialisms quickly and utilizes them appropriately, has a keen sense of humor, and smiles a lot. He is a giggler, much like his dad. As much as I am trying to teach him, he teaches me, too. Today, he taught me an important lesson.

Often I make mistakes as a father. I give him too many directions, not enough directions, or set him up for failure with unrealistic expectations. Today I made a combination of all of those decisions when I took him with me for what I thought would be a quick haircut. It wasn't.

My son, Jake, was getting tired. I could see it when we drove up to the haircut place. His eyes had fluttered open and closed, and his head had begun to sag forward a bit in his car seat, clear indicators that he was close to napping. I should have heeded the warnings signs. Instead, I tried to maximize my time and jam in the haircut, too. Not one of my better ideas.

We walked in. I saw there was no wait. 'Score! We'll be in and out,' I thought. I'd been to this particular place before. They specialize in quick, affordable haircuts. The stylists save the haircut settings in the computer, so whoever cuts your hair the next time knows your preferences. I was called right away. I'm feeling good.

I held Jake's hand and he walked with me to my seat. The stylists idea to keep him occupied was to put a child chair ten feet from my seat and tell him to sit. She was young, she didn't know better. I'm not young, and I do. I know my two year-old doesn't sit in a seat unless a cartoon is on, he's eating french fries, or he's strapped in. I thought, 'he can do this,' even though there was no evidence supporting he could. He'd never sat in a seat for any length of time without a distraction. Why should he do it now? I hadn't brought in food for him, his favorite book, a toy, or the iPad. I had unrealistic expectations for him, and he behaved how he was supposed to -- like a normal two year-old. And, that became the problem.

As I got my haircut, Jake sat in his seat and looked around. He brought over a magazine and turned the pages. Within 30 seconds he was ready for something more stimulating. He surveyed the room and saw the hair care products. I cringed on the inside, as Jake approached them and proceeded to reorder some of them. Gels, sprays, other things I don't know what they're used for, they all were moved, touched, slapped together, and played with. He went to a hair dryer and tried to take it. He took some of the hair products and moved them to the other side of the room. He seemed pleased with himself. He'd taken the initiative to take a bunch of objects that looked shiny, colorful, with interesting shapes, and made something new with them. Don't I give him free reign to explore with similar looking objects in his playroom? As far as he was concerned, he'd follow the inherent rules established at home. If they were different, I needed to tell him that in advance, and guide him through as he made mistakes so he could learn from them.

Instead, I was tongue tied. I wasn't sure how much to say, or what not to say. I excused myself from the chair and caught Jake mid-run. I explained to him that we needed to respect the property and everything in it. I needed him to sit in the chair for 2 minutes and look at the magazines, perhaps play with my phone. Then, we would go, and I would get him home and to bed.

He settled down compared to how he was prior, but he was still over-stimulated. There was a lot to see, and he wanted to see it. His curiosity had been piqued, tempered, but still there. I apologized for Jake's decision making.

"This is my mistake," I stated. "I didn't bring any toys or food for him. I am sorry for this."

The hairstylist didn't respond. She continued to cut my hair and stare at it as she lopped parts off.

"I am sorry," I tried again. "I was not prepared for this, and should have explained to him what the expectations were."

Again, silence. No response.

'Ok,' I thought, 'she's just trying to get through this, just like me.' Had I been her I might have accepted the apology, tried to empathize, or just dismiss what was said with a quick, 'no big deal.' I've been around the block, worked with a lot of different types of personalities as an educator, and don't take things personally. I find it personal to them. The hair stylist, for whatever reason, was taking this highly personal.

When the haircut was finished, the hairstylist usually asks if I want any gel in my hair. Instead, she said, "you're done," and walked to the cash register. I paid her, tipped her, and tried one last time. "Thank you," I said, making eye contact. She looked at me and walked away. The two hair stylists behind her looked at me. I looked at them. They smiled sheepishly. They were embaressed for everyone. They didn't want to be in that spot right now.

"Does he want a lollipop?" one offered.

"I think a nap would be better," I replied.

Jake is home sleeping now, and I am reflecting. What did I learn from the 'Haircut Doomsday Experience,' and how can I relate it to my teaching and leading practice? First, keep in mind what's realistic and practical. If someone isn't in the right frame of mind to accept something new or different, like Jake was, I need to trust my instinctual read and choose another time to connect with them. Second, if I do make a decision and it's incorrect, recognize it, admit it, and change it. When I saw that Jake wasn't going to behave appropriately during my haircut because I hadn't made the prior preparations, I needed to excuse myself, take him home to his mom, and return to finish my haircut. Third, make it right. I should have asked to speak with her privately and made it clear I appreciated her efforts during 'Jake-gate', take ownership of my role in what occurred, and asked her what I could do to help her. She's not an educator or parent, and did the best she could with her skill set. Additionally, I needed to tell Jake I messed up and shouldn't have brought him there, instead of hustling him to the car as if we were leaving the scene of a crime. Last, I should let the owners of the haircut place know that their staff did the best they could, but perhaps having child-centered materials available (the chain bills itself as a family haircut place) and staff training on how to handle different types of children would be beneficial.

Or, I could just be mortified and never go there again. But, how would anyone grow from this experience if I do?