"Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Why I don't cry (or yell) over spilled milk

Last week - actually, a week ago today - Tegan (3 years old at the time of this writing) threw Spencer's shoes in a lake at a park. It wasn't the first time that his footwear had met a body of water at Tegan's hand. That was last month, in our friends' pool.

This time, it was here:

We were all sitting around, barefoot, enjoying the grass and the breeze. She spotted his shoes, was struck with, uh... inspiration... and before anyone could stop her, had taken off for the water with the shoes in hand. The next thing we knew, the shoes were floating gracefully away, while I scrambled to my feet to find a stick or something with which to go fishing.

Have you ever seen a 6 and a 10 year old try to hang on to a 130 pound woman to keep her from falling headlong into water while she precariously leaned on her tiptoes trying to retrieve two floating sneakers with a flimsy branch? You missed a good show. But I did eventually fish them out, returned them to their owner, and we all went about our day.

Afterward, my friend's 7 year old son - Everett's best friend - said to his mother, "Wow, Jennifer NEVER gets mad! I never see her get mad about anything!"

It was a nice thing to hear. Not entirely accurate mind you, but nice. I do get mad occasionally (although the older I get, the less I find actually worthy of getting mad about). But I wasn't mad about the shoes in the water.

I'm not mad when someone spills.
I'm not mad when someone makes a mess.
I'm not mad when something gets broken.
I'm not mad when my kids act like kids.

And it's not that I'm more patient than the next person - because I'm really not - it's just that I made a decision a long time ago... I decided that some things mattered, and some things did not. Shoes in water do not matter. Spilled milk does not matter. Broken cameras do. not. matter.

My kids matter.
My relationships with my kids matter.

Even in those moments when I do get frustrated (or more accurately, especially in those moments when I do get frustrated), I remind myself that it's a decision, and I come to the same conclusion every time: 

What matters is my kids.

Spencer's shoes were safely recovered that day, but even if they'd irretrievably sunk to the bottom, what purpose could anger have possibly served? Responding in anger would not only have not helped the situation, it also would have damaged my relationship with my daughter. Every time we respond to our kids in anger, it damages our relationship. Every time we respond in anger, it takes us further away from our goal of peace, harmony and mutual respect.

My daughter is more important than a $20 pair of shoes. 

A few months ago, she accidentally pulled my Nikon off the counter, damaging it beyond repair.  She's more important than a $600 camera too.   Shoes, cameras, houses, cars.... all small stuff compared to my kids. 

Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon University professor who delivered his famous Last Lecture to his class (which was later turned into a book of the same name) before he died from cancer in 2008, illustrated this in such a beautiful - if a bit extreme - way.  He'd just gotten a fancy new convertible, and his sister was harping on her children, Randy's niece and nephew, to be careful.  Don't mess up the new car.  Be careful around the new car.  Don't spill anything in the new car.  Randy, putting his niece and nephew first, basically told her to relax.  He walked to the car, poured an entire soda on the back seat, and said, 

"It's just a car."

And at the end of the day, it's ALL just a car.  Just a pair of shoes.  Just a camera.  None of it is worth getting upset about.  None of it is worth getting mad about.  None of it matters.  
What matters is our kids.  What matters is our relationships with our kids.  None of us is guaranteed a tomorrow with our children.  And I don't know about you, but I therefore want to live each moment as if it were the last.... and if it were the last, I wouldn't want to know that I'd wasted time - wasted even a second - being concerned, or upset, or angry about the small stuff.  

..... and it's all small stuff.

Welcome to the 2nd Annual Carnival of Gentle Discipline!

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