"Please don't be mad at me, Mommy."
Nothing takes the fire out of me faster than that phrase. My youngest son said that to me the other day when I discovered he had sprayed sunblock all over the bathroom mirror and the floor. I was getting him and his brother ready to go outside to play in the little inflatable pool they love so much. And I really did start to get mad. Not even mad, really, just irritated, because I spent a lot of time cleaning that bathroom the day before. Scrubbing the mirror, the toilet, the sink. Washing the bathmats. Dusting the baseboard and the door.
I took a beat longer than I normally would to respond. And finally, I sighed, and said to him, "I'm not mad. But can you understand why you're not supposed to do that? Sunblock goes on your skin before we go out in the sun. It doesn't belong on the mirror or the floor. That's a waste. And it makes a slippery mess."
And he looked down at the floor with his big brown eyes and said, "I'm sorry. I just wanted to see how it worked. I wanted to do it myself." Dagger to the heart. Kids are curious. When they are very little, sometimes it's enough to know that something works, but not the "why". But as my boys have gotten older, the "why" has become very important to them. They want to try things for themselves. They want to understand what happens when they press the button on the spray can of sunblock. How fast does it come out, how does it feel, what does it sound like?
Instead of yelling, instead of cancelling pool time, instead of dealing with the mess right then, I gave him a hug and said, "Let's not do that again, OK? If you want to put sunblock on yourself, you can do that, but not in the house." And he smiled at me and we went outside and I let him spray it on.
Sometimes little moments like that mean more than you'd think. It stays with you. I replayed it in my mind a couple of times, not really sure at first why I couldn't let it go. And then it finally hit me. He made a mistake and he expected me to be mad. His first gut reaction was to brace for the yelling, mad mommy. And when I didn't react that way, his little face lit up and the smile he gave me was so bright.
I'm not saying that as parents we can't get mad or that we can't discipline our children when they do something wrong. But this situation will serve as a reminder for me that just talking it out with him and explaining why he shouldn't do something can be so effective. It makes him think about what he's doing and what the possible consequences will be.
A dirty mirror isn't the end of the world. But knowing that my son feels comfortable to talk to me about making a mistake - it makes all the difference. And now I can save all my yelling for my husband.
I kid, I kid. :)
Issue 8 of Holl & Lane Magazine launched today! Hurry over to the shop and pick up your print or digital copy.