I have learned a lot over the last few weeks about how literal children are in their interpretation of words. It's something that I think we often take advantage of until we really think through the need to explain metaphors and figures of speech to children and those whose first language is not the English language.
This become readily apparent to me during my vacation while we were at Busch Gardens. Yet another lesson learned from the amusement park. Our family had spent the whole day at the park and we knew that the "witching hour" would be upon us soon and the children would start melting down if we tried to push our luck with them. The weather outside was starting to become questionable and some of the rides were getting shut down.
Somehow, we were able to get on a river ride just after it had reopened and right before it closed for the second time. My two boys and I rode and we were soaked by the time the ride was over. So what better way to enter into a nice air-conditioned theater than soaking wet? Right, but that's just what we did. My wife and I really wanted to see the "Celtic Fyre" show. The kids had responded pretty well to all of the shows that they had seen over the days that we were there, so we thought that we would give it another try.
One of the most important questions for any parent to ask prior to going into a theater or show is, "Do you have to go potty?" I took the opportunity to ask just that and both of my boys said that they did not. We may have already gone on the way to the theater, so I didn't think anything of it. The show started and they seemed to be into the music and dancing.
About midway through the show, my 5 year old got up and was doing the "pee pee" dance. I reluctantly grabbed him and we made our way to the back of the theater to find a bathroom. As I was leaving, I asked my other son if he needed to go. He told me that he didn't but I needed more assurance of that. I kept pressing him, but he insisted that he didn't need to go. There was no restroom in the theater, so we had to go outside the theater and through the park to find one. By the time we got outside, it had started raining. We ran to the bathroom and made our way back to the theater.
We both settled back into our seats to catch the last 10 minutes or so of the show. Not 30 seconds later, my other son starts saying, "I have to go potty." I am not a patient man, and this nearly sent me over the edge. I knew that the show was almost over though, so I asked him if he could hold it. In fact, my exact words were, "Can you hold it until this is over?" He said that he could and crawled up on my lap to watch the rest of the show.
As the song played on and the performers danced, I thought that I was in the clear. We could enjoy the last part of the show and then hit the bathroom prior to leaving the park. Well, the music stopped and while the note was still hanging in the air and the audience was still applauding, I felt a sudden warmth on my lap. I looked at my 3 year old and said, "I thought you were going to hold it." He looked back at me and said, "It was over." He had a point, I had never specifically told him to wait until the whole show was over, so to him, the ending of the song was reason enough to assume finality and unleash the fury that his bladder had been holding.
I teetered between frustration and amusement. I told my wife what had happened as she was trying to figure it out as she looked at the constant banter between my son and I. We laughed. The show ended and I imagined myself walking around with a distinct smell of urine on me. Thankfully, I had already been soaked from the ride that we had been on, otherwise, it may have been a "Billy Madison" moment when I tried to convince people that I had peed my pants to make my son feel better.
I will be very careful about my words with my children in the future. Not that I already hadn't been, but my sensitivity has been heightened. But it's not just with children, it's with everyone. Our tendency in this digital age is to allow our communications to be abbreviated. Abbreviated communications can easily lead to misunderstanding. I don't know about you, but I hate to be misunderstood.
In this political season in which we find ourselves, it's hard to find people who say what they mean. My intention with my son was to clearly communicate so that I could be understood, it seems that there are many out there who are trying to communicate in such a vague way that they can be easily misunderstood. I wish that people would say what they mean and mean what they say. It would make things much simpler in the understanding arena, trying to decipher the message would be a lot easier, not so much a detective game, but just a listening game.
As I sat and thought about this, I was reminded of James' words in James 5:12, "Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned." Regardless of what others do, I have a responsibility to communicate as clearly as possible, to allow people to interpret my words as close to "face value" as possible. I need to do all that is within my ability to eliminate the potential for miscommunication and misunderstanding, which means that I need to think through what I say before I say it.
Everyone hears things different, children aren't the only ones, we need to communicate with that in mind. People will take us literally, they will take us figuratively, they will misunderstand, they will misinterpret. All that we can do is be aware of the possibility and do our best to communicate as explicitly as possible.
(By the way, if you don't understand the picture, there was a scene in the movie "Spaceballs" where the soldiers were told to comb the desert. They took the command very literally.)