The idea came organically, the way many powerful ideas come.
We sat around our worn kitchen table enjoying Bryan’s smoked ribs, sweet potatoes mashed with the perfect amount of nutmeg and greek yogurt, grilled green beans and homemade parmesan biscuits. We ate on our wedding china – the same china that until two years ago sat in boxes – for no other reason that it was the day after Christmas and we wanted to honor the simpleness of family time, a day spent in pjs until afternoon shadows cast long shapes across the living room rug and illuminated dust on a thousand perished pine needles.
Tanner, our savorer, our life stroller, our kid who takes a fafillion hours to eat shared about how he was trying to play a song to make Ty happy.
I don’t feel like he appreciated what I was trying to do, he spoke into a full fork.
His words hung in the air and at the same time, we saw what his heart was really asking.
Do you appreciate me?
That question doesn’t go away, no matter what our age.
Do you need to be affirmed, bud? we asked aloud.
Heck, why don’t we go around and affirm everyone?
Around the table, we buttered biscuits and offered each other the simple, free gift of verbal affirmation.
And then this moment happened.
Tanner took his turn and sheepishly looked at his little brother. I like it when you ask if I want to play with you.
Ty, his plate already empty, sat in my lap, his shirt pulled up, my hand scratching up and down and back and forth when suddenly his eyes crinkled and his cheeks squished like biscuit dough.
Tanner, you’re going to make me cry.
And before any of us knew what was happening, that sweet boy, shed crocodile tears over his older brother’s words. Bryan and I looked at each other. What is happening? our stares spoke.
Suddenly Tanner began crying and then I began tearing up and Bry bit his lip and made a half-joke.
Words are a powerful gift. We write them in cards and text them on phones but something tender occurs when we offer eyes and tone and vulnerability and tell faces around a table how we specifically see them growing. I enjoy you because ___________. I see you working hard on _______________. I like you because __________________.
Plain and simple everyday encouragement.
Honoring humanness in its imperfect form.
Last night two brothers shared gifts that had nothing to do with wrapping paper or toys or fancy bows.
And their parents saw a powerful lesson on display in the middle of ribs and china and boxes still littered on a pine needle covered floor. We saw two boys speak encouragement aloud.
And Tanner’s words confirmed what we knew to be a new tradition.
We need to do this all the time, he whispered.
And our tears agreed.