My son, who turns six in May, didn’t want to keep working on his dictation assignment for kindergarten.
The task called for me to read a short sentence, which he would then write on the paper. He’d had a decent day at school – even completed his in-class work – but it was late afternoon and I sensed he was tired.
I didn’t want him to quit, though. We were halfway through this. I just wanted him to finish. But he wouldn’t.
So, I said, after a long sigh: “OK, go to your room.”
“No,” he said, shaking his head.
“Yes,” I said. Calm, but firm.
His brow furrowed. Foot thumped against the chair leg. “No.”
“I’m counting to three. One…”
Eyes already glistening with tears: “No!”
Grimacing: “No! No!”
Fists clenched. Tears streamed from squinted eyes. “NOOOOO!” But he was already climbing down from the chair at our high kitchen table and stomping toward the stairs.
The baby monitor in his room is the same that let us keep tabs on him when he was an infant in the majestic old house on Pennsylvania Avenue in Durham in 2013. It now broadcasts to a speaker in the kitchen in the townhouse our family has called home since 2016. Through it, I could hear him ranting between sobs:
“You’re a…a…a…bucket dipper, Dad! That makes me so sad! I bet you didn’t know everybody’s got an invisible bucket! And bullies take from other people’s buckets! I can’t believe you dipped into my bucket! You’re a bucket dipper!”
While this went on, I plucked my iPhone off the counter and opened the web browser. Apparently, a teacher at school had read the students a book called Fill A Bucket. I’d never heard of it before, but the premise is that, as the boy related, everyone’s got a bucket and when you do nice things for people, you fill their buckets. When you do bad things, you take from them. You’re a bucket dipper.
Well. I wasn’t going to settle for that. “Get down here,” I said up the stairwell.
Sullen, he made his way back down.
“You don’t have to like the consequences I dish out for your actions,” I told him. “That’s fine. But I didn’t do anything to your bucket. I gave you time to pick a different path. You refused. You made your choice. You took from yourself and you kind of took from me too. I didn’t want to spend our time together this way today.”
He looked shocked, fresh tears spilling down his cheeks. “I can’t believe I dipped into my own bucket and poured it out.”
“It happens,” I told him. To a lot of people, kids and grownups alike. More often than I dared admit.