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Dad Recognizes His Discouraging Words

My ten-year-old son was "helping" me paint the laundry room. I brushed; he rolled. When he disappeared to get a Coke, I re-rolled where he'd painted.

I didn't mind this. But I did mind his repeated efforts to reach higher than he should—standing on tiptoe, his arm straight up, wobbly, trying to control the roller heavy with paint.

"Let Daddy get the high stuff," I said. "I'm afraid you'll drop the roller, or lose your balance and fall in the paint."

I'd delivered this lecture several times when I had to leave the room briefly, returning to find Justin once again stretched—ambitiously but precariously—with a shaky and ineffectual roller in his fingertips. "Justin," I barked, "I told you to stop stretching! I'll get that."

"Okay, Daddy. I won't do it again."

In the silence that followed, I wondered how many times over the years I had given my children that message: "Stop stretching." How often had I said, "You can't do this. It's too hard. Let me do it. Don't be unrealistic. Don't reach so high"? Too often, I'm afraid. And now that I think about it, I kind of hope they weren't listening.

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