During the first night in the hospital room after my son was born, my husband commented that our son was kind. I laughed at his word choice as I looked down at the screaming baby in my arms. I was sore, exhausted, and desperately trying to feed my son with little success.
“Kind? How can you tell he is kind? He’s a baby!”
My husband just nodded matter-of-factly. “Kind. I just know.”
I laughed and rolled my eyes as I returned to rocking and feeding while trying to keep my eyes open.
This conversation became a running joke between the two of us. When my son first started to sleep through the night, my husband declared, “See! He’s so kind!”
When my boy tried to “help” me by pouring an entire box of Cheerios onto the living room floor while attempting to refill his bowl: “He’s so helpful. So kind!”
When he piled every single toy from his room around his baby sister so she could not possibly move anywhere: “He even shares! So kind!"
Mostly, these comments made me smile or laugh, but sometimes it was hard to smile or laugh after a day of disciplining my wild three-year-old. At the playground, he threw mulch at the other kids. When it was time to leave, he threw himself on the ground and cried. At home, he still wasn’t speaking much and resorted to throwing or hitting. These actions seemed anything but kind.
But my husband was on to something.
After my son started speech therapy and began working with an occupational therapist and a special educator, he started to verbalize, understand, and interact in the world in a way that revealed his true personality and not just his frustrations.
As it turns out, my husband was right. Our son is kind.
When his sister throws a tantrum because she didn’t get the last piece of candy or she didn’t get to pick the movie, he inevitably gives her the candy or lets her pick the movie. He can’t stand to see others cry.
When he eats his favorite treat, an M&M yogurt, he picks out all of the green candies to save for his dad. Green is his dad's favorite color.
When he sees a boy throw dirt on another kid on the soccer field, he becomes visibly upset and asks questions like, “But, why would he do that? Why would that boy make someone unhappy?”
Yes, these are small things on the scale of kindness, but they have the potential to grow.
Last year, during a conference with his kindergarten teacher, she told me how pleasant my son acted toward his classmates. I smiled but didn’t fully accept the idea. After all, I was at a conference discussing his academic struggles. Don’t all teachers have to throw in something nice?
Months later, I met with her again. We talked about his progress, and she reiterated the sentiment. She told me that when others weren’t kind, she told them to act more like my son. I walked out of the school with a pile of reading resources to use throughout the summer and a huge smile on my face.
When I received his report card at the end of the school year, I was so proud of all of the check marks indicating that he met expectations. But one mark caught my eye. In a sea of “Meets Expectations,” there was one lone plus sign indicating “Exceeds Expectations.” That one lone plus sign was next to the phrase: Demonstrates respect with words and actions.
There it was in black and white – my child is advanced in kindness. He treats others with respect. He does this even when I am not there to nudge his leg under the table as a reminder to say thank you. He does this even when I am not there to whisper in his ear to go play with the lonely child on the playground.
In a way, I want this to be my mic drop moment. Mama, out. My work here is done. However, I know that this simply marks the beginning of a long road of nurturing and prompting kindness, and I want to thank his kindergarten teacher for reminding me of this.
In fact, I’m pretty sure that the small plus sign on his report card was meant for me. Not to give me a pat on the back for a job well done, but to give me a gentle nudge as if to say, Keep up the good work, Mama, your job here is not finished. Your small human is going to grow up to do big things in a big world, so please keep reminding him what is important.
My son will likely get some A’s on future report cards; he also will likely get some less-than-spectacular grades. However, this mark indicating that he is on a path to becoming a good person, a respectful person, a kind person – it just might be the most important one of all. Yes, the A’s in math, science, and language arts would be nice, but respect and kindness also have the ability to change the world.
I left the report card on the kitchen counter for a couple of weeks as a reminder to myself that this is what we should strive for every day – kindness. But I also left it on the counter so my husband would have ample opportunity to declare: “See! I told you he was kind!”