Mark Cripe is that guy you just can’t get enough of. We call him the bear, both because of his burly size and his giant hugs. A smile that covers his entire face, you can’t help but listen when he talks.
He can pound a tequila shot like nobody’s business, but melt your heart while describing his love for his wife (“The Queen”) and his incredible children. He’s not a man of navy power suits and gold watches, usually only donning a t-shirt and jeans that give you permission to feel comfortable in your own skin. His words, though: his words are his power suit. When he shares with you his stories of watching children needlessly struggle, even die, because too many grown-ups gave up on them, stopped listening, it can feel like the whole world is too big to make a difference.
So the other morning when my three-year-old was violently resisting getting dressed for school, I could feel myself begin to match his level of anger and frustration.
“We have to get dressed to go to school, Abe.”
“It’s not a choice, Abe.”
“I’M NOT GETTING DRESSED.”
“Yes you are. You’re getting dressed right now.”
“NO I’M NOT.”
“YES YOU ARE.”
And suddenly, Mark’s big, kind face entered my mind. He encourages parents to talk to their kids, ask them “why” instead of telling them “no”, listening to the answers. So, I took a deep breath, cradled my growing-way-too-fast son in my arms, and I asked quietly, “Why don’t you want to get dressed, Abe?” And then I listened.
“Because, mommy. I don’t want to go to school. I want to watch Little Einsteins.”
I wondered for a moment if his little brain could even predict that leaving now didn’t mean he would never be able to watch Little Einsteins again. I wondered if going to school, to him, represented the end of all of his control over the things he wanted to do that day. I embodied Mark’s words, listening and trying to see things from my son’s point of view.
“You know, Abe. You can watch Little Einsteins when you come home from school and have a snack,” I said quietly.
“I can?” he asked.
I watched his brain process this idea; this idea of the future and that while he can’t always have the things he wants right now, he might be able to eventually. His eyes stared at the wall, the tears from his tantrum dried on his cheeks.
“I can watch it after school?” he asked, just to be sure.
“Yes, you can.”
“Ok, mommy. Let’s get dressed.”
When it comes to taking care of children, we are all parents. We are all meant to be teaching them, listening to them, asking them “why”. Mark taught me that. And while I still feel overwhelmed and unworthy at the amount of children whose lives he has touched, I realized the moment my son was attempting to put on his own shoes that Mark had just touched my child’s life. He gave my son the gift of listening, because he taught his mother that listening is the most important gift I can give.