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.)
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.