To say my youngest son, Jake (7), is a challenge is putting it lightly. Without getting into too many specifics, I’ll say this: He’s strong-willed, defiant, and doesn’t do well when he isn’t challenged. Jake has trouble at school with not listening, hitting other kids and just being (I’m sure in the eyes of his teachers and classmates) an occasional menace.
We see it at home, too. He needs to be asked multiple times to do things, puts up a fight when even the most simple request is asked of him and he digs his heels in. HARD.
I’ve struggled with how to correct his behavior. I immediately go to sarcasm and taking things away from him, letting him know that failure to comply with what we’re asking will have him lose privileges, go to bed earlier, miss out on stuff we have planned, etc.
His response is usually a shrug of the shoulders and: “So?”
It’s hard not to feel like a failure as a dad when I see him constantly take the hard way.
This past Saturday he and I were home alone. I thought it might be a chance for us to do something together and sort of bond. I’ve been struggling with what to do. We’ve gone on a few bike rides with mixed results and we sometimes spend time reading together (the dude is CRAZY about books), but I wanted to do something different.
And I had NO IDEA what to do.
He immediately decided he wanted to go over to his friend’s house across the street, leaving me on my own.
I should back up a bit and mention that this kid loves animals. I mean, he LOVES them. He’s constantly asking for a dog, he loves pictures and videos of cats doing dumb things, etc. Recently, we’ve had a crazy little finch fly at our front window, flapping his wings at the glass. He’ll then land and peck at the window like he’s trying to get in. Jake is fascinated by this little finch and decided to call him Little Jimmy.
What’s funny is, Jimmy didn’t figure out that the bird he was seeing in his reflection was just that…a reflection. He keeps coming back, flying at the window and making a fool out of himself. Jake will drop whatever he’s doing to watch this crazy little bird.
This has been happening for a couple weeks. As I was sitting there, sort of keeping my eye on the kid while he was playing with the neighbor, Little Jimmy came back. Did his little dance at the window, looked around and after maybe 5 minutes he flew off.
That’s when inspiration struck.
When Jake came back to get an arsenal of Nerf guns, I told him we should go get some lunch and work on a secret project. Immediately he was interested. Not sure if the prospect of getting a roast beef sandwich and some mozzarella sticks were the trigger, but I took it.
“What’s this secret project, Dad?” he asked, his face buried in whatever book he decided to bring along.
“I was thinking we could maybe get a birdhouse for Little Jimmy.”
“Are. You. Serious?” His head was up above the book and his blue eyes were wide with interest.
“Yeah,” I said. “I don’t know how it works with those birds. Maybe he already has a nest set up, but it’s worth a try.”
“We should get one of those birdhouses that has the one-way mirror in the back,” Jake suggested. “You know so we can see what Little Jimmy is doing.”
I hadn’t thought of that, but suddenly I was just as excited about getting this dumb bird a house as he was.
We stopped and got our food. Oddly enough, they messed up our order, but sort of to our benefit. We each ended up with a sandwich one step bigger than we had planned. When he saw his “mid-sized” roast beef sandwich he said: “This thing is SICK.”
Afterwards, we stopped at a store to see a guy about a birdhouse. We were told “if we have ’em, they’re over by the bird seed.”
We looked through the shelves but didn’t see what we were looking for. Instead, I saw a picture of a bird on a long tube of tiny black seeds that looked EXACTLY like Little Jimmy. Not wanting to go home empty-handed, I offered up a suggestion.
“Hey, how about we give Little Jimmy some food? We could totally set him up for the whole summer.”
Jake was a little wary, but I pressed on. I told him that a bird house might be kind of hit and miss. You never know if a bird is going to trust some birdhouse and if he’s already got one built up, he might not want to pack up his crap and move.
We settled on a suction cup holder and a tube that had little posts for the birds to land on and eat to their heart’s content. We went home, I pulled out the ladder and put the feeder up on the window where he liked to attack his reflection. It was worth a shot.
After putting the stuff away, we waited. Nothing. The wind made the little feeder sway a bit, but other than that it was a bust. Almost all of Saturday the bird stayed away. Sometime around dinner, we noticed Little Jimmy sitting on top of the feeder.
“There’s food below you, little guy,” Jake said, careful not to get too close to the window.
We watched as he flew down BELOW the feeder and did his pecking-at-the-window thing for a bit before flying off.
This happened a bunch of times. He’d cool out on top of the dumb feeder and then head for zee hills.
And then…on Sunday evening…magic.
Travis (my oldest) and I were in the basement playing video games and Jake went upstairs for a second. I heard him yell. “He’s on the feeder!”
I figured he was just doing the same thing, when I heard my littlest guy shout: “DAD! HE’S EATING THE SEEDS! LITTLE JIMMY IS REALLY EATING ‘EM!”
Travis and I ran upstairs and all of us watched from a safe distance behind the couch as Little Jimmy went to TOWN on those seeds. He’d grab some, look at himself in the window, grab some more, look around for predators, and then chowed down for even longer. He was probably there a good 5-7 minutes before he took off.
We were ecstatic.
I know this probably doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but it was the end to a mostly perfect weekend at the House o’ Troupe. The bickering between brothers was minimal, there was more listening than usual, Jake held my hand more in the space of two days than he probably has in a year. Life was good.
When I tucked him into bed last night, I gave him a hug and a kiss goodnight.
“We did it, buddy,” I said.
“Yeah,” Jake said. “We did.”