My thirteen-year-old son Clay is the most laid-back member of our immediate family – by a mile. But the one thing that really bothers him is the thought of eating expired food. I don’t think he’s ever had food poisoning or even eaten anything that tasted bad because it was past its prime. Maybe the root of his concern comes from watching me check the dates on items at the store before I buy them. For whatever reason though, Clay consistently checks expiration dates on food before he eats them. In his quest to make sure he only eats unexpired food, he pulls a snack out of the pantry and then asks one of us if the date listed on the package has passed. On most occasions, Ben or I usually respond sarcastically saying something like, “Of course not, it’s May, and the expiration date is not until June. Don’t you know the months of the year?” This went on for a while until one day Clay said, “Can’t you just tell me yes or no without riding me about it?”
At first, I thought, no, I’m your mother and need to make sure you know the days and months of the year! Then I realized, he’s thirteen and a straight A student, he knows how to use a calendar. He doesn’t need a time calculation tutorial. Instead, he wants reassurance. He wants to know that we prioritize his safety and protection. That we won’t let him eat something hazardous or do anything harmful. And that in seeking that reassurance, he won’t be shamed or harassed. I felt bad for having made a big deal out of a simple question.
After that realization, I endeavored to listen to those around me with a different perspective. When my ten-year-old Alex told me that a boy purposely hit him in the head with a ball at school, I asked if he told a teacher. He said no, and then asked, “are you mad at me?” No, I replied, but my face must have looked otherwise because he asked, “Are you sure you’re not mad at me?” Part of me wanted to say, why would I be mad at you when someone else hit you? But I reframed my exasperation with his question because he needed reassurance. I replied, “No, I’m not mad at you. He shouldn’t do that to you.” He needed to know that he was not in the wrong. That it was not okay for someone to mistreat him.
We all need a little reassurance from time to time. We need to know someone cares about our well-being. We deserve to feel worthy. We need to trust that if we reach out for help, we will be met with love and protection. And since we all need that type of reassurance, we need to keep that in mind when another asks us for that same care and love. We may have to answer questions that seem obvious to us: of course, I love you; of course, I’ll help you; of course, I’ll come when you need me. A small answer can be big to those seeking reassurance.
Now when Clay asks if the food is expired based on the date on the package, I don’t harangue him anymore. I simply answer yes or no. It’s an easy way to give him the reassurance that we all need.