Recently, on vacation in Maine, we were sitting around the table playing cards and talking about funny things the kids did when they were little. My almost 21 year old son just casually mentioned that one of his WORST childhood memories was how upset I got when he wrote on the refrigerator — and through his smile…I could see that it still haunted him.
I will tell you how it happened.
We moved to our house in 2004…We rented for one year and then bought the house in the Spring of 2005. Prior to moving in, the landlord, a business associate of my husbands, who was not local, let us oversee the work being done on the house to bring it into this century – painting, sanding and refinishing the floors, installing a second full bathroom and updating the plumbing throughout . It was a big job that took the better part of 6 months. The landlord appreciated my supervision and on most days I would drop the kids off at school and Cooper, then 3, and I would head to the house – he would play with trucks and legos I would sand and paint and clean.
The house had not been touched in over 50 years. All of the appliances were 1960 Avocado green. We replaced all of the appliances except the double oven which was in good working order. For the first time in both our former big city apartment dwelling adult lives , we got NEW APPLIANCES – including a simple – but fancy to us – Side by side Frigidare Stainless Steel Refrigerator.
Fast forward to Spring of 2005. Just an ordinary day. Making dinner and feeding the kids at 5:30 pm to get ready for the bathtime/bedtime shuffle.
I left the room for a minute and when I returned, my 7 year old son Tate was standing proudly in front of the fridge with the biggest smile on his face and pointing his hand a-la Vanna White toward the Refrigerator..and said
“Mommy!!!!LOOK what I did!!!”
I looked, in shock, at my brand new Fridge, which now had “TATE” in big bold letters carved into its door. Tate held the utensil – a phillips head screwdriver in his hand . He was SO PROUD. He was learning to read and write…and to him, the surface of the Refrigerator was no different than a chalkboard.
I screamed “WHAT DID YOU DO!!!” I could not breathe. “What did you do!!!!!!” I was in complete and total disbelief and felt like my head might explode and I heard myself babbling something like “GET UP TO YOUR ROOM!!!! Go upstairs and get into your bed! “
His face – his crestfallen beautiful little face. He had been so proud…and now, he watched his Mom turn into a monster. He did not see it coming and his dismay was palpable. He ran upstairs. But I was fit to be tied…so much was wrapped into that Refrigerator that I literally could not see straight.
ugh…writing about it makes me sick to my stomach.
Life went on. About 6 months down the line, the fridge ended up having an internal defect which made it leak and and Lowes brought us a brand new Refrigerator and took the old, engraved one away.
I missed the engraved one, but never said so out loud to anyone but my husband.
And this brings me to last week…
My heart sank when Tate said that this was his worst memory. I had not forgotten it, but it did not stay with me like that. And I felt so awful and wanted to go back in time and hug him. Yes, it could always be worse…no one died, no fires were started and I did not spank him. But I over- reacted.
I guess the part that makes my heart hurt is that instead of taking a breath and handling the situation like an actual grown up – I lost it. I unraveled and yelled and broke his heart.
I do not believe in regrets – after all – every day has led me to this one – but if I wrote a book- there would be a chapter titled –
“LET IT GO!”
When you get to the other end of parenting – all of the stupid stuff like dirty clothes on the floor and spilled juice on the chairs – just do not matter. Not even a little. Not at all. All that matters is that your children and healthy and happy and functioning in a world that is confusing and busy and at times, over whelming. NOT reacting to things like spills and writing on furniture will not create destructive maniacs. In fact, the situation was the perfect “teaching” opportunity to talk about property and respecting other peoples stuff. I could have said something like – ” I am so proud of you for being able to write your name! But in the future let’s write on paper Only.” End of story . How was he to know? There had been no orientation to being 7 – where topics were covered like the proper use of screwdrivers. He had been industrious and bright . He still is.
Oh well. We live and learn. But truly – if YOU can learn from my experience – childhood is a blip…a dot on a huge sheet of paper and a moment when magic can happen and imaginary friends are real. It lasts but a second and then they grown up. Let go of trying to get them to “be good”. What is good anyway? Children ARE good. I truly believe that the BEST parenting comes from example. They learn from how WE behave. How we talk in the car, to our friends, to our spouses and the plumber. They watch our every move. Encourage your children to explore and ask questions and along the way – Create safe boundaries that help them learn the limits.
You are the banks of the stream. And they are the stream. They are the rushing river.