One of my favorite things about being a parent is getting to see The Bashful Face. I remember the feeling associated with it from when I was a boy—a breathlessness, a quivering in my chest, and the feeling that a smile was trying to come out of me but couldn’t– but of course I don’t know what my face looked like. I have no real way of knowing what my son feels but I recognize the face, an odd combination of embarrassment and pride and happiness and contentedness that contorts his features into an expression that really seems to be uncomfortable.
I love to see it because I know that I have touched some point within him that is important to him. It’s usually something kind of insignificant but that he is thrilled that I have noticed. For example, yesterday while he and I were on our way back from the grocery store, I got a business call that I had to attend to. Normally, when either my wife or I are on the phone, our son is a chatterbox and a gossip, eavesdropping and asking for clarification when he can’t follow the conversation. He is admonished for it virtually every time one of us is on the phone.
Yesterday, however, he sat in the back seat quietly. He may have been eavesdropping, but he didn’t say a word. He didn’t sing. He didn’t randomly shout out “poop” or “pee pee” or any other disgusting word. He didn’t even kick the back of my driver’s seat. He sat still, waited patiently, and remained quiet. Just to give you the right frame of reference, his behavior was so unusual that I adjusted the rearview mirror so that I could see him there behind me in order to be sure that nothing was wrong.
The call ended about the time we rolled into the driveway. He jumped out and came to meet me in order to carry the groceries. I was so pleased and surprised by his behavior during the call that I said “Hey, I just want to thank you for being so quiet during my call. That was really considerate, and I appreciate it.”
He couldn’t even talk. He wanted to. He wanted to say “You’re welcome,” or “No problem,” or maybe even “Sure.” But he couldn’t. All he could do was look at the ground, his face contorted into The Bashful Face, his hands clutching for grocery bags so he could get the heck out of there. Once in the house, I told Gloria the story of the peaceful phone call, and ended with “He really thought about me, and really made an effort to be sure my call went well. It made me feel great.”
He had to leave the room. The Bashful Face was so strong that he was kind of sticking his tongue out of the corner of his mouth to try to control it.
Getting to see that face is the best part of parenting to me because it’s an affirmation that he wants to do what’s right, and that he’s thrilled when he’s successful. It lets me know that all of my efforts to instill in him the values and the ways of thinking that will be increasingly important as he gets older and older are paying off, and that he is becoming a good guy. Seeing The Bashful Face makes me proud, both of him and of myself.
It also lets me feel slightly more secure that he will make good choices as he gets older. For me, that’s one of the most daunting aspects of parenthood—that in their adolescence, children might make choices that will define a less than awesome path for the rest of their lives. Seeing his face screw up into a near grimace calms that fear for me, and lets me believe that by the time he is a teen he will have developed a strong enough sense of right and wrong, and that he will crave the glow of pride when he is successful so much, that he will avoid doing the damaging stuff and instead stick to just the stupid, juvenile stuff.
Finally, remembering how I felt when my face was doing something similar informs me that he is bursting with emotion when it happens, and that he is a happy, healthy, well-adjusted boy. That’s what we’re all trying to achieve as parents, and so it serves as a reminder to me that I need to keep doing what I’m doing. Every time he gets something right, I need to mention it to him, to thank him, to recognize him so that he senses the immediate payoff that kids (and lots of adults) live for. It works out pretty well—he gets his immediate payoff, and I get mine too.
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