I have three children but Noah is my only boy. With his soft skin, squidgy fingers and little cheeky grin, he is obviously the cutest three year old I know.
Because in the morning Noah will say ‘Aww, not yet mummy’ and pull you into his smelly little IKEA bed for a cuddle. When you read him a story he sits beside you with one hand resting on your leg. Always. Autumn is his big sister and also his best friend. With Autumn around he is slightly brave but on his own, slightly vulnerable. He is that wonderful mix of mischievous and inquisitive. And as much as Noah enjoys our world he also spends a lot of time off somewhere else….Adorable.
But there’s a pay-off to all this cuteness!
It is fair to say that at times I can find Noah challenging. My mum calls him a loveable rogue.
He can flit between completely ignoring me and being downright defiant. To Noah it’s simple -his voice is for shouting, his hands were made to lob stuff and his legs for running, climbing, stomping.
His energy is endless. And if there isn’t anything to say then he’ll just fill the silence with what I can only describe as a nasal ‘Heeehhhhh. Heeehhhhh.’ Toys are more fun when you can just smash them all together until they break. Oh and his vocabulary has greatly increased this year to include this-
‘You smell like a stinky bum bum.
I’m gonna pull your head off. And then sit on it.
No. You’re not the boss.
I will keep throwing the ball at the tv.
I will keep ignoring you.
I will keep rubbing this dark chocolate Kit Kat all over my face and shoving it into your pale grey cushion.
I will keep butting in when Autumn is telling one of her long and boring stories.
I will keep dipping bits of my dinner into my juice cup and declaring that it is nice.’
And I believe this is all perfectly natural behaviour. Just a phase.
And it’s probably natural that I am finding this a little bit ‘new’. His older sister is a real people pleaser and, to be honest, even a stern look can devastate her.
Noah couldn’t really care less about my stern look. In fact, he’ll probably mimic my look and say ‘Mummy is doing this at me.’ (insert fits of laughter)
But a while ago I saw this Mr Potato Head thing.
It was somewhere online, a photo shared, a pretty simple idea. Mr Potato starts out empty with no bits attached but gradually, as you notice certain qualities and characteristics in your child, Mr Potato begins to get the bits and pieces back on again.
This looks good, I thought. Noah would like this.
And so I narrowed it down to four things to make it easier for him and a bit more achievable I suppose!
He gets the big blue feet for walking feet, gentle feet, careful feet.
The hands are awarded when I see helpful hands, caring hands, sharing hands.
The mouth is for using kind words, agreeable words, friendly words.
The ears are for listening ears- listening to mummy and listening to other people.
When I notice something I make a massive deal about it and he gets a little piece. His sister, as always, is his biggest cheerleader and so she is on the look out, too. Never underestimate the power of a six year old who is on board with your behaviour management strategy! Genius.
I know it’s probably just the right concept at the right age. Not a big deal, really. Temporary success perhaps! Just a big plastic potato with a few incentives to behave.
Or maybe it’s more than that.
Because lately, I feel like Mr Potato Head is reminding us to do the hard work of getting along with each other. And man, is it hard work. I think Mr Potato Head might be about encouraging us to be gentle and kind, to listen, to take our time with each other. Mr Potato Head is both reminding and encouraging both of us, Noah and I, to treat each other with dignity and honour.
Noah needs this. I need this. We all really need this.
Because with three small kids I have two goals- I pretty much do whatever is quickest and easiest. On the surface these are good goals. But in reality, it often looks like a lot of shouting ‘No!’ or yelling ‘Stop that!’ or ‘Come on, hurry up, Noah!’ It looks like a lot of shoving and puffs of exasperation and eye rolling and muttering stuff under my breath.
What takes a lot more time is stopping to notice Noah sharing his juice with baby Poppy and praising him for that. Then fetching a white plastic hand and fixing it to the side of a plastic potato. Then talking about what we are doing and why.
What takes a lot longer is asking him to tell me all about those pink listening ears. It takes time to have a bit of chat about how listening well can make our day go smoother. And then I need to think up some special mission which may or may not result in a pink ear!
The point is no yelling. But more time, some gentle conversation, some thought and patience.
It’s not really that hard but you know what? If I’m continually hurried and stressed then it actually becomes impossible. I just can’t do it. I resort back to the shouting and losing my temper in a frantic attempt to make him do what I need him to do. Which says more about me than it does about Noah.
Because this wee man literally can’t get enough of Mr Potato Head.
I think about the ways I can be firm but also gracious and reasonable. I think perhaps this road is longer. I think from the sidelines this road often looks soft and a bit weak and sort of pointless. But in the end, on this road there is often a lot less isolation and a bit more understanding. And that is never a waste.
So, Mr Potato Head has been helping us out with this. And boy, do I need help.
Because to give Noah a plastic mouth for his kind words and then yell at my husband to get out of my face doesn’t really work. I cannot preach about gentle hands and then slam all the doors in our house in anger and frustration. When my daughter asks for help to get her school tights on I can’t tut in her face and roll my eyes at her incompetence.
My kids aren’t stupid. They will smell a rat. And they are usually the first to let me know.
You see, at the back of Mr Potato Head there is a little flip down door. You can store all the bits inside if you want. The kind words, the listening ears and helpful hands are all still there, rattling around inside, but they’re hidden away.
And I bought the Mr Potato Head for Noah. But actually, I need reminded and encouraged with this stuff just as much as he does. I need help with the hard work of getting those bits and pieces out into the light.
It is worth slowing down for.
It is worth the extra time.
Perhaps, the culture of my home, my community and beyond depend upon it.
Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is
characterised by getting along with others.
It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings…
You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with
God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work
of getting along with each other,
treating each other with dignity and honour.
(James 3 MSG)