We walk into the restaurant, the boys dancing with excitement, each small hand clutching a thin rectangle of white plastic. We practice again while we wait in line.
“Simon, what do you want?
“I would like a 12-count nugget, a small fry, and a small water, please.”
“That’s perfect. Who’s next?”
And we go down the line. Everyone’s ready, and we make it up to the front of the line.
“I can help the next customer.”
I push one of my boys forward. The cashier looks at me and asks if we’re here to dine in or carry out. I pointedly look down at the child in front of me, who clears his throat and says, “Dine in, please.”
I’m grateful when the cashier smiles down at him and asks, “What can I get for you today?” Each boy completes his order, proudly sliding his gift card through the reader, requesting Chick-fil-A sauce, and taking the receipt and table marker from the employee. When it’s my turn, I smile gratefully and thank him for his patience before placing my own order.
This scene has played out in many different forms but tends to run much smoother, thanks to all the practice. A little more than a year ago, I realized our oldest kids were old enough to be able to speak up on their own. Almost immediately, we began pushing them to talk for themselves in different situations. At first, there was a lot of anxiety and push-back from the boys. They were scared and unsure of themselves; nevertheless, we persevered, beginning with small things in safe places, like asking for a refill of water at Chick-fil-A. They nailed it and couldn’t have been prouder of themselves.
From there, we kept pushing gently forward, encouraging them to speak up for their needs and problems, both with grown-ups and other kids. They’ve asked for help finding books at the library, ordered their own food at sit-down restaurants, and solved their own problems with friends. Before our eyes, they’ve become more confident and self-assured little people, able to handle things on their own (always under supervision . . . I mean, they are six).
Our youngest quickly caught on and followed in his brothers’ footsteps, always eager not to be left behind. At four, he doesn’t hesitate to speak up, even with some speech issues that sometimes cause him to repeat himself a few times before people understand.
I realize that these steps are small, but they’re leading up to bigger things. My parents rarely did something for me or my siblings if we could do it for ourselves. Our reluctance was irrelevant. I have a vivid memory of being 11 and calling all the fire stations in the area to find out when they had babysitting classes. I HATED every second of being on the phone and asking questions, but I didn’t die. And I know that I’m a stronger adult and a better communicator because of experiences like these. I can politely interact with a variety of people, communicate my needs or wants, speak up if something is wrong, and ask the right questions to get information. I want our children to one day have these same skills.
I believe in letting kids be kids, but at the same time, I try never to lose sight of the fact that I’m not raising kids. I’m raising adults. Children are capable of doing more than we often give them credit for, and we need to let them. One day, they won’t be kids any longer, and it’s our job to make sure they can speak up and communicate when we’re not there to do it for them. So we’re getting them ready. One order at a time.