I was super impressed. I sat down next to Liam to point out how awesome they were doing but before I could even say a word he said, "I got scared when I saw you look up at them. I was afraid you were going to just basically, you know, compare me."
The worst part is, he was totally right. The first thing I thought when I saw the girls scaling the wall was, "Liam took a class here for 12 weeks and never got that high!" In my head, it sounded like a compliment to the girls, not an insult to Liam. But to him? I think it's pretty clear.
It was one of those awesome moments I only would have caught if I had been in the right (or wrong) place at the right (or wrong) time. I never could have forced this conversation to happen but here it was. A perfect opening that hit me like a punch in the gut.
"Wow," I said, squeezing him close to me. "That sucks."
"Yeah," he said honestly.
"You know what?" I said. He looked at me thoughtfully. "This might sound crazy. But I never knew until today how hard climbing is."
"No! I never actually tried it so I had no idea. It's so hard! And really freaking scary."
"I know, right?" He was starting to look like we were back on the same team.
"I think the reason I always pushed you to go higher is because you made it look so easy. I mean, look at these guys," I said, gesturing to everyone climbing all around us. "Don't they make it look easy?" He nodded. "That's how you look up there too!"
"Yes! So when I'm like, 'You can do it! Go higher!' It's not because I want you to be like some other kid, it's just because, well, you seriously look like you can do it."
"Huh," he said, milling it over.
"You know what?" I said, thankful for the open door. "I bet it's kinda the same with food."
"What do you mean?" he asked. He was definitely wary. Food has been a thing with Liam for like, ever. We've been working on his fear of trying new foods (or combinations of foods) lately and while it's going pretty well, there's still a lot of drama.
"Well," I said carefully. "For one, I don't want you to try new foods to be like anyone else. It's not a comparing thing at all. I just want you to be the best you you can be. And, like, not get Diabetes."
"But also? Of course I don't think it's a big deal for you to try something new - because it's not a big deal for me. Whatever I'm offering you is something I like!"
"Yeah...but for me..."
"Right! It would be like if someone made me eat sushi."
"Wait. But you like sushi."
"I like vegetarian sushi," I corrected him. "But this one time someone made me try barbecued eel sushi and I almost threw up at a restaurant."
"Seriously?" He was smiling so big.
"Oh yeah. I had major gag reflex. Like, worst. Bite. Ever!" He was totally cracking up. "It sucks to think you probably feel like that sometimes."
"Yeah," he said laughing. "It's the worst."
"Man," I said, squeezing him again. "So not worth it."
"I'm really sorry, bud. But I'm kind of in a pickle here."
"Well, remember this morning when I was chopping vegetables and you came into the kitchen and said, 'Yum! Bell pepper!' and you grabbed a piece and I almost fell over and died and it totally made my day?"
"Well... If I had never made you try that, you never would have known you liked it."
"Same with pizza!"
"Same with everything. Because the only way to know how you feel about something is to try it."
So we came up with a plan. If I want him to try something that I think he'll like (or tolerate), we'll call it a bell pepper moment. But if I'm trying to get him to try something he already knows he doesn't like (for real - he has to be honest here), he can call, "barbecued eel!" and I will kindly back the eff off.
(This has to do with food, of course, but there's no reason for it to stop there.)
Most importantly, I will do my very very best to remember that comparison really is the thief of joy. I mean, seriously. It's crazy how easy it is to forget something so obvious. Lucky for me I have an awesome kid who is more than happy to remind me what really matters.
Best. Teacher. Ever.