At this time of year, many citizens of the western world celebrate the winter solstice, with its returning light, as the coming of peace. The prince of peace is born.
Tell that to my five year old, Kai. He loves to argue. I know, because he told me. A few months ago, when, in response to my “no,” he spun an elaborate argument for why he should be allowed to watch a video, I exclaimed, “You should be a lawyer!” (deftly changing the subject). “You are really good at making arguments!”
I watched as his face softened into a beatific grin. “I love arguing!” In a flash he screwed his smile into a mock grimace and pointed his finger at me: “It’s all your fault!” Indeed, I thought, I’m sure it is.
Still, I wasn’t ready to begin my solstice celebration with an argument. It wasn’t even 7:30 AM when Kai found me in my room. “Kyra’s not being nice!” he complained. He was upset. “She and Jordan are keeping secrets! She whispered something in his ear and she is not telling me what!”
I checked in with Kyra. Sure enough, she had been asking Jordan for help in making Kai’s Christmas gift. I turned to Kai to talk about it, calmly and quietly. “They want to give you something.”
“They are not being nice!”
“Would it be nice if they didn’t want to give you something?”
“They aren’t telling me what they said!”
“They want it to be a surprise!”
“They don’t like me!” And so it continued. Kai was insistent and furious: not telling equals not liking. There was no other equation that made any sense to him. I sighed and sent him along to talk with his dad. I was supposed to be working anyway.
In the kitchen Geoff ran through the same reasonable logic I did with similar results. Suddenly I heard Kai make a new move: “If they tell me, it won’t ruin the surprise, because I won’t know what package it is in!”
The boy is five and he won’t give up. He will argue with a passionate and precise fury for what seems, to an outside observer, to be right there in front of him. He wants to be included, and he is!
Is his passion so hard to understand?
I think back to what I have been learning since I realized that he “loves” to argue. One thing is that “arguing” means something different to Kai than it does for me. I don’t like to argue. I prefer peace. I see the two as mutually exclusive. If someone argues with me, I assume that they don’t like me. For Kai, it is nearly the reverse.
Before I understood this about Kai, we had been periodically getting stuck in the same conversation that went something like this:
Kai: “I love you, Mom.”
Mom: “I love you too, Kai.”
“But I love you more than you love me.”
“I love you so so much, Kai!”
“You don’t like me.”
“I love you, Kai!”
“No you hate me.”
And so it would go, with Kai insisting that I hated him, until I would finally resort to something like: “Kai, when you say that it hurts my feelings!” At which point he would be convinced that he was right. I didn’t like him at all. Not one bit. He would start crying. I would then give up, change the subject, and try to get him interested in something else.
It was so confusing to me. How could my best efforts to tell him how much I love him backfire so profoundly? Why, when I was telling him something, was he arguing with me saying that I wasn’t?
But after realizing how he loves to argue, I began to get it. One day, when he told me that he loved me, a new move arose in me. I went with it.
“Oh no, no, no, Kai. I love you!” Instantly his face lit up. It was a game and I was playing.
He came back: “No, no, no, no! I love you!”
“No,” I said, carefully and with great, exaggerated emphasis, “you just don’t understand. I love you!!”
And there we are, “arguing” back and forth for several minutes, our large loud mouths smiling at one another.
It worked. I was so incredibly relieved to have found a way in. We kept having the same conversation, with the same warm feeling of a result. Then it occurred to me. Kai argues with me because he loves me. More to the point: he argues with me because he wants me to argue back with him—or at least, to argue with that part of him that might doubt my love for him or fear his worthiness in receiving it. He doesn’t want to feel that doubt or fear. He wants to be in—in-cluded, in the loop, in the light.
By arguing with me, he is sounding out this darkness inside himself; in wanting me to argue back, he is asking me to help him dissolve it, defuse it, and find his way to more presence, more intention, more love. To help him find his way into the light, I need to move with him into the dark, into his dark.
A few days ago, we were having our “No, no I love you” dialogue when suddenly, he stopped. He looked at me intently: “Mom, we don’t have to play this game anymore.”
I peered back at him. “You mean, I can just say, Kai, I love you too!”
He smiled at me, “Yes.”
I saw the light. Or rather, Kai and I saw it together.
Perhaps that is what the morning’s argument is reminding me to celebrate.