Teach your children well

When I was growing up, I loved nothing so much as those cheesy after-school specials which always ended with a Very Important Lesson of one kind or another. Sometimes the lesson was that you should stay away from drugs, because drugs kill. Other times the lesson was that running away from home doesn’t solve anything. And often, the lesson was that if it’s hot enough out to fry an egg on the sidewalk, it’s also hot enough to fry your dog’s brain.

Oh, wait. That was just a commercial. Whatever. You get the idea.

Similarly, whenever I did something boneheaded as a child, I always looked forward to the moment when my parents would sit me down, afterward, and say, “Now what did you LEARN from this experience so that it won’t happen again?” Except that that’s a total lie; I merely wanted to be able to on the other side of that conversation, with my own kids, as some sort of karmic entitlement after suffering through multiple painful illustrations of my own stupidity.

(Also, I don’t actually remember too many of those conversations. Though I do remember being spanked, and/or grounded. Often. But five or ten more years of therapy and I’m pretty sure I’ll be over that.)

Anyway, look; we all make mistakes. I’m still making them, although I haven’t actually been grounded for any of them in quite some time. My job as a parent is to guide my children as best I can, and when that guidance falls short—either through my own shortcomings or because my children inherited the STUBBORN AS A MULE AND I WILL DO IT MY WAY THANKYOUVERYMUCH gene—my job is to turn the fallout into one of those “teachable moments.” Yes? Yes.

Sometimes those teachable moments are STOLEN FROM ME, and then I get all confused.

Example the first: I begged Monkey, multiple times, to please wait for me or Otto to put together his new water-powered car, on his birthday. He completely ignored me. It was an exciting day; he was deliriously excited about all of his presents; and in the end he seemed to do okay with it and I figured that maybe I was being over-controlling or whatever. And then he patiently waited a week for us to remember to buy distilled water, and then this past weekend the time came to test it out.

Otto discovered two things: One, that Monkey had NOT put the car together correctly (surprise!), because why would you read the directions when you’re nine and all, “Dude, it’s a car, the wheels go here and stuff,” and also that a few necessary pieces HAD BEEN THROWN AWAY. I love that child more than life itself, but there is a little picture of his grinning mug next to “careless” in the dictionary. It’s not intentional, it’s just… small-boy-al. He’s in a hurry. He has the attention span of a gnat. Things happen. Which is perhaps why I do things like, say, SUGGEST HE WAIT FOR AN ADULT when it comes to an expensive model kit with teeny parts.

And I was READY. I was launching into my “This is the sort of thing that happens when you don’t listen” speech, and I was exasperated and he was crushed and I thought to myself, “At least the silver lining here is that perhaps he will remember this and be more careful in the future…”

… and then Otto took the car out to his workbench and MADE THE MISSING PIECES. And Monkey lost his mind with joy.

Now; on the one hand, hooray for salvaging the car, and also, DIG IT, my husband is a problem-solving rock star. On the other hand, the lesson here becomes less, “Listen to your mother, be more careful, and pay attention” and more “Do whatever you want—probably Otto can fix it later!”


Example the second: There have been several Good and Useful conversations in which I suspect my daughter and I are both growing as people, following the science fair project debacle. Yes, she will start working earlier, next time. No, she will not leave it for the last minute. Yes, we will both work on communicating with each other better. And no, she doesn’t want to be so rushed and sloppy, next time.

Teachable moments! Oh, how a mama’s heart does sing when it hears the dulcet tones of LEARNING!

And then the kids came home from school yesterday. They sat down at the kitchen table with a snack. They reported on their days. We chatted about various things. And then just as I was headed back into my office to finish up on something, Chickadee called out, “Hey Mama? One more thing.”

“Sure, honey. What is it?”

A sly smile spread across her face. “I won first place in Physics in the Science Fair.”

I stopped dead in my tracks. “You did NOT.”

“Yes I did! Really! Now I get to go to the county-wide fair.”

“That’s… wow. That’s great, honey. Congratulations! Except I have to say I’m sort of surprised.”

“MOM. They’re not grading on how straight you cut things out!” (It’s possible that in the dark, final hours of the project assembly, I may have made some observations about Chickadee’s facility with the scissors. Or lack thereof.)

“Apparently not.”

Hooray for my daughter being a smartypants smart kid, right? Except now the takeaway from this particular episode is “Feel free to leave everything for the very last moment and pull it all out of your butt at the eleventh hour. Probably that’ll work.”

Oh, well. At least they know not to leave a dog in the car in the summertime. And that’s a crucial life lesson, right there, that I totally NAILED with them.

Too bad we don’t have a dog.


  1. MomCat

    Methinks that pulling things out of one’s nether regions at the last moment is a skill which is absolutely vital to holding down a job in corporate America.

  2. Megan

    Sigh. Let me know if those golden moments of teaching ever result in actual, you know, learning on the part of your kids. In our house a frequently mentioned cartoon was one (possibly mythical – I never saw it but Kaj SWORE it existed) that was captioned, “it wasn’t the lectures junior dreaded, it was when Dad pulled out the overhead projector.” Only, natch as we’ve moved on, it would be PowerPoint. We seized those moments baby, heck we snuggled up to them and assured them it wasn’t ten yet and they totally didn’t have to go home. We would seize them in the car, we would seize them… um, help me out Dr Seuss… from afar? So why, WHY are my teenagers still procrastinating or leaving their precious bits and pieces out where they will be stepped on and/or tossed? WHY??

    Ahem. I mean, hey! Nice thing about teaching moments is that there’s always another one. Right around the corner.

  3. Tammy

    I agree with MomCat…somebody has to be the “rockstar-that-saved-us-at-the-last-minute-with-their-brillance”, why shouldn’t it be Chickadee?? Then again, this could set a VERY BAD prescedence for the future. How do I know? Because Chickadee is me…reincarnated. I pray for you Mir. ;)

  4. Sara

    Wait. Is Otto’s real name McGyver? I suspect he used a piece of chewing gum, a paper clip and an acorn to create those missing parts.
    Dayum, I hate when my kids’ “teachable moments” backfire. It’s right then that I know that the smugness gods are having a great day.

  5. BethRD

    Hey, I got through most of college pulling things out of my butt. Granted, this was during the period when I was majoring in art history, for which things pulled out of my butt appeared to be sufficient (sorry, any art historians reading this, but at my school my butt could get As in your discipline) and served me less well when I started computer science and had to produce things that actually *worked*, but still, last minute brilliance is far, far better than no brilliance at all. Give Chickadee’s butt a high-five from mine.

  6. exile on mom street

    Oooh. See I was your Chickadee when it came to writing. Drove my parents NUTS that I could wait until the last minute, churn out a rough draft before school. Not really bother to edit it and then turn it in and get an A.

    Once I got to a tough liberal arts college, editing finally became part of my vernacular because there I could only pull B’s without it.

    So, eventually I learned.

    Also, I ended up at the county wide science fair in elementary school and there my run ended. I was pretty embarrassed putting my project up against all the other finalists. Maybe that will happen to Chickie and you’ll get your teaching moment.

  7. CrystalM

    De-lurking here… Maybe the lesson they can take away from these two situations is that even though they did not listen and do things the “smart” way to start with, there is a valuable lesson to be learned from perserverance. The ability of Chickie to get up the morning the project was due and finish it instead of giving up (as my lovely, stubborn-as-a-mule 13yr old daughter is prone to doing) is admirable in it’s own way. Monkey could very well have completely overreacted and gave up hope on his new toy when it was found to be not put together just right, but with Otto fixing it for him, he possibly learned that there are ways to make something positive come out of something that at first may appear negative. It may not have been the lesson you were aiming for, but it still showed good points about their character in the end. Going back to my corner to lurk once more.

  8. Aimee

    Heh. Chickadee’s teachable moment reminds me of this one time in high school when I decided I wasn’t going to pull something out of my butt. I had this Humanities teacher who was just great. He made me want to do a good job. So instead of writing my paper at the last minute (which I always did) I started it right away. I slaved over it. And I got a lower grade on that paper than I did on any of the ones I did the night before they were due. What I’ve learned, as an adult, is that THAT is how my creative process works. I need to just play around with something in my head, and then it will spring thence, fully formed like Athena, onto the page. Maybe Chickadee’s like that? Only don’t tell her I said so. ;)

  9. ikate

    Oh hell – I was always winning stuff in middle and high school for projects and papers I put off until the last minute. Ask me about my term-paper on Wuthering Heights (a book I never actually read!) that got a state-wide English award for something or other. I wrote it in about 2 hours after reading a few pages of Clif-notes. And I always hated science fairs because the kids with the parents who were the crafty type always won – like having a pretty tri-fold board really showed that you learned anything scientific.
    I’m the go-to girl at work now when everyone is in a pickle; I do my best work under pressure. Chickie is going to do just fine.

  10. Barbara

    Wow, the other-commenter-competition is getting tougher. Everyone up to number 6 (visible at this time) gave you some good stuff.

    Even if you don’t remember every sit-down lesson-lecture your parents gave you, those lessons became part of you – like good food. Frank memory is not necessary for the learning effect.

    Hmph. I doubt Monkey learned what you fear. BUT you might have learned it takes more than verbal warning to him, at his particular age/level. So, put the next project out of his reach until St. Otto can help him.

    Eventually, Chickadee will learn last-minute work does not suffice in every situation. Natural consequences.

    (ps – this page does not accept html code, as I learned yesterday when I tried a strike-through code. Guess which word: dark or vegetarian.)

  11. Dawn

    Great stories, and oh, how I can sympathize. My kids seem to think their way is always THE way. And, they currently have the mentality of “it’s godd enough, Mom!”. There’s a lack of initiative to raise the bar for themselves and they want to do just what it takes to finish, not exceedingly excel, which is what “I” want them to do. Ugh! We moms never have it easy, do we?

  12. Ani

    Crud. I hate when all turns out right in the end after I painstakingly put together the “teaching moment” lecture. Hmph.

    My lovely boy has been a pain in the rear at school, doing sloppy work and bossing classmates around. So…his teacher wants to promote him to the next grade.

    Um, be a lazy-butt and skip a grade? Seems SO wrong.

  13. Ani

    That said, congrats to Chickie on the science fair, and kudos to Otto for all-around MacGyver-ness.

  14. TheresaG

    Delurking – For Megan in comment number two- I think it’s a Farside strip- I have seen it several times since I’m a freak and collect funnies and have more books of Farside, For Better Or Worse, Zits, Baby Blues, Calvin and Hobbes and others than even the bookstores.

    Like other commenters, I had plenty of wait-till-the-last-minute projects do pretty well. And I even came to count on that magical moment of productivity, and my mom in her *wisdom* let me. And then came the day when it didn’t work. Boy, was that, like, the WORST DAY EVER that school year. Teachable moment? Heck yeah. I never did that again. At least not that year, unless you are talking calendar year and not school year… ah what can I say, stubborn as a mule = extra large learning curve.

  15. Marlen

    Yeah,my kiddos did that one year with their projects and won and first and second in the science fair. Hmph!

  16. Lily

    “Feel free to leave everything for the very last moment and pull it all out of your butt at the eleventh hour. Probably that’ll work.”

    I know you don’t want to hear it, and I won’t tell Chickadee, but for the most part this works pretty well – in the ‘adult’ world, even.

    Not ideal for the parents, and of course there are ways involving a lot less stress and teeth-gnashing and brain explosions… I heavily encourage my Kiddo to choose THOSE ways over the “last minute freak-out omg mom is screechy again” ways.

    I look around at most of the adults I know and I still see a lot of the “pull it out of your butt last minute” and then I see them receiving praise and accolades for doing such a great job.

    It’s rare that HOW you get it done counts more than actually getting it done.

  17. Randi

    MWA HA HA – ohh…ahem. It’s kinda like when you are trying to scold your child for doing something stupid but at the same time you’re smothering your laughter!

  18. just beaux

    It’s great that Otto is MacGyver and that Monkey’s car was fixed and kudo’s for Chickadee, but the poor poor dog.

  19. Katie in MA

    Yeah, I didn’t learn that lesson in college. I was all – What? I have to study? And I can’t just leave everything until the night before? Except that…yes, even my Honors thesis senior year was put off until a week before and I graduated cum laude. So…nope. Never mind. Never learned that lesson.

  20. Jamie AZ

    I feel similar situations are going to happen in our house, too. 7-yo-I-know-everything-boy is being tested for the gifted program this week and I encouraged him to take the test slow instead of screaming through it like his homework. We’ll see.

    Congrats to Chickie, but ugh on getting first place for last minute work. Does sound like something I would have done back in the day though! I’m a perfectionist, but a great procrastinator, too.

  21. Flea

    Sounds like Monkey got something far more valuable than “Listen to Mom”. He got Otto, and all that comes with it. Knowing that he can screw up, be forgetful, throw things away, and someone who loves him will step in and help make things better, just because he loves him and he can. That totally rocks.

  22. Jenny

    Dude, not having learned Lesson #2 is the story of my life. I’d suggest you endeavor to nip that in the bud except, see above, in re: life, story of. My business cards should read “Procrastinatory Technician Specializing in Bullshittery.” I’d be proud of my accomplishments if I didn’t realize what a lousy rat fink that makes me.

  23. kim

    Hey, the pull it out of your butt method got me a high school 4.0 and let me graduate from college with highest honors. However, I’m certain it took years off my mother’s life and baffled my college roommates to no end. Sometimes you just got to learn these things for yourself.
    Good luck.

  24. ChristieNY

    I am cracking up. Hooray for Otto being a rockstar coming to the rescue, and hooray for smartypants Chickie. And hooray for their Mama holding herself together when the lessons were swooped out from under her. You’re a good Mama, and they are good kids. And Otto IS a rockstar. Hugs!

  25. Barb


    My boys are 13 and 15 now, and we’ve been exactly where you are with the Science Fair. The last-minute wrangling, the tears, the fights, the begging, the staying-up-until-2 AM, all of it. My oldest even went as far as changing his project twice and finally doing the research, the writing, and the display board all the night before it was due. I was so smug and so sure he’d finally learn his lesson. And…bam! He not only went on to the Regional Science Fair, but went on and won an award at the State Science Fair that year as well. I guess the lesson here is that we have to let them make their own way. I have the same problem – if it weren’t for the last minute, I’d never get anything done either. How can I expect him to be any different?

    Glad that Otto doubles as MacGyver and that Monkey got his birthday gift to work. Don’t blink, because before you know it, they will both be off to college and you’ll miss the late nights working on science fair projects!

  26. The Other Leanne

    As someone who consistently pulls major projects out of her butt and gets paid to do so, I can concur that “It’s rare that HOW you get it done counts more than actually getting it done.”
    The trouble is, it is a most unpleasant way to operate; it is unpleasant for me and everyone around me, sickeningly so, and I’m quite certain has taken years off of my life.
    The real lesson is about doing it the hard, crazy-making way vs the easy, fun way and the cost and consequences of each.

  27. Tami

    I too was a butt puller-outer. All my friends and family always knew that I needed a good “head of hysteria” to do a project. In His/Her Infinite wisdom the Power of the Universe sent me a child that becomes paralyzed when under pressure, hence after forty-odd years of hysteria I now must plan waaaaay in advance AND (to add insult to injury) I have to teach my 11 y.o. daughter to plan and execute in same advance manner. The Power of the Universe has a sense of humor!!!

  28. jess

    I’m one of those “wait until the last minute and then do really well on the project” types of people; HOWEVER, when I was a teacher, I always told my students the “proper” way to do things because I know (oh, so very well) that my particular way? Does not work for most people. I’m not sure why it works for me, but I’m not advocating it for anyone else. (Plus, it’s just darned stressful to procrastinate, which is probably taking years off my life, right? Maybe you should tell her that part of it. :) )

    I always hate it when people’s bad choices turn into good things for them, but I guess life’s like that sometimes. Hmph, unfair life…

  29. Sarah

    Oh geez, I totally sympathize with you. I’m a big fan of ‘Love and Logic’ parenting (if you’ve never heard of this particular technique, I highly recommend Googling it). Which I essentially equate to giving them just enough rope to hang themselves with so they can learn their lessons now and not once they have car keys or alcohol at their ready disposal. Two great lessons almost learned here. Darn!

  30. Ashlea

    Maybe it was you who needed to learn the lesson this time ;)

    And i say that with complete kindness….i promise.
    But there are hundreds and thousands of people that DO manage to get through life by the skim of their teeth, sheer luck, brilliance, others peoples ingenuity, etc……
    sometimes it works and you win, other times not so much. And sometimes there IS no lesson or consequence and life goes on.

  31. k

    you are on the BANNED list for dog-sitting my dog

  32. Cele

    I’m not talking to my dog right now, and it’s cold in Georgia, do you want him?

  33. ramblin red

    I had that same ill-fated reinforcement that Chickadee had and have struggled with procrastination my entire adult life. Reason being? I got A pluses on the stuff I waited to the absolute last minute on…including a grad school paper on citizen participation. I just have never had that deflating moment when waiting to the last minute has totally bit me in the arse.

  34. mama speak

    There’s a quote about things taking as long as you have, and I do believe that Chickie may have gotten that life lesson this time around. However, don’t underestimate the ability of being able to pull things out of one’s arce. It’s really more of a talent, when done well, it’s an art. Sadly, it is a lot of how the world does work these days. Perhaps the teachable moment for which you are searching is that your mother won’t hassle you so much if you don’t do it all at the last minute. Cause I’ll tell you, even at 40 that’s a valuable thing to know. It is also the precursor to learning that not everything has to be done the hardest way; don’t take all your toughest classes your first semester of college. Sometimes being smart is knowing where your strengths lie and sticking w/them. If she’s good at pulling it out of her arce, so be it. There’s worse things.

    It doesn’t help that you live w/a super hero who bales kids out of thier mistakes now does it?

    On the upside it is good blog fodder.

  35. Lauren

    Yup, I’m with a lot of those ahead of me…I was/am a TOTAL procrastinator but I always managed to pull it off almost perfectly – science fairs, senior projects, my thesis. I always use the same old procrastinator’s excuse of “I work better under pressure!” but I REALLY wish I wasn’t like this and had taken all those lessons to heart sooner. Problem is I think if you’re this type of person – you’re just this type of person. Parents, teachers, friends, bosses (and I!) have all tried to get me to change but to no avail. Good luck with Chickadee (and good luck to her at the county-wide fair)!!!

  36. nil zed

    Another arse puller outer. I didn’t learn the lesson by getting a big fat F on the science fair either. That one got left until the end becuase I couldn’t be bothered, I had no interest. I suspected from the county-wide display at the mall that kids from homes with money/space for experiments I couldn’t manage would win. Kids who could somehow manage to type write their report. Whose parents could afford better display stuff. (Not to mention the kids whose parents were obviously way too involved.)

    I finally learned in college. Not because of any particular project, just the sheer volume of things that could be left until the end of semester. In high school, despite our whinging that they didn’t, our teachers actually coordinated projects fairly well, so that in any given year or semester, you only had one or two, and not due at the same time, and before the cramming for exams week. In college: Few classes had multiple assignments that had to be done regularly. Most had a mid-term, a final, a handful of assignments & a paper. If one procrastinated, then you had a project & the cramming to do x 5 or 6. All due either the last lecture before the exam week, or when you walked into the final at the latest. A full course load of work is a lot to do in two weeks! Plus a job.

    OTOH, as said above, in the working world, HOW you got it done hardly matters (assuming it hasn’t encroached on other work duties, or other employees). The planning matters more in making sure your day to day can be ignored for a few while you reach the panic/inspiration stage on a project, than in planning the project inself. For me anyway.

    Definition of Last Minute matters too: so long as the research & pondering stages are happening, then the putting it all together stage geing chaotic is not too bad. It’s when the advance work is ignored that you really fail.

  37. Karate Mom

    Dude, that is so frustrating about Otto and the McGyver thing! I mean, it’s great that the car is fixed but BOO HISS on the learning of the lesson! Dang!
    (Sorry, I can’t believe that I just started a sentence with “dude”. I’m not a 12 year old boy, I promise!)

    As for Chickie and the science fair? I think that the commenter was right who said that maybe the lesson will come when she takes it to the county-wide fair. Because there will probably be projects that look a whole lot better a less slapped together at the last minute.

  38. Shannon

    My husband was notorious for waiting till the last minute and somehow pulling it all off. A bad, bad thing because eventually it catches up to you. And not only that, but his sister saw him doing and thought she could too, but it didn’t usually work out for her.

  39. Mara

    I have Chickie’s problem. All through high school and college, I wrote my final papers the night before they were due. I always got A’s, so I never had any incentive to change this behavior. I still can’t fathom writing *anything* more than 12 hours before it’s due…

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