As much as I love our yearly tradition of making gingerbread houses, I’m not so fond of having them in my house for the entire month of December… crumbing, rotting, and the pick, pick, picking by every child who comes by. They are usually a broken down mess that “disappears” immediately after Christmas, but during lull at Christmas break, I had the (brilliant?) idea of letting the kids demolish them in the backyard instead… WITH the caveat that they clean up after themselves.
The kids ran out to the yard with head-spinning giddiness at the prospect of running over their gingerbread houses with their dump trucks and burying them with the diggers. They hooted and hollered for a solid ten minutes. Then… they got bored (as kids do when you think something is going to be super awesome and fill an entire afternoon) and returned to the house before I had a chance to follow them outside.
I asked if they had picked up the yard.
“YES!” they sing-songed in unison before turning back to their iPad.
Noticing that there was no evidence of trash bags strewn about or whining over who had picked up the most and/or least, colored outside the lines, or whatever else DOES NOT REALLY MATTER RIGHT NOW… I asked them to specify exactly HOW and when they had picked up the yard.
I was secretly hoping that they had thought to put the trash directly into the bins outside so that I could lavish you with stories of my clever, considerate, wonderful children… but no.
“We threw it over the neighbor’s fence!”
“WHAT?!” Horrified, I grabbed two trash bags and ordered them to put on their shoes and coats. “We’re headed to the neighbors’ yard to apologize and clean up. NOW.”
There was a slight hesitation at the door followed by a flustered explanation and apology from my son and daughter. I could tell our next door neighbor was confused, so I quickly recapped and asked if we could go in their backyard to pick up.
“Oh it’s okay. They are just kids. It’s fine. Thanks for letting me know,” she said.
“No. I would feel better if they could pick up their mess,” I insisted, sending psychic mom waves in her direction. Please, please, please let me have this parenting moment. PLEASE!
“Oh, it’s not a big deal. I can take care of it, not a problem. Thank you so much!”
Knowing that we couldn’t force ourselves into our neighbor’s yard, we just apologized again, wished them a “Happy New Year”, and moved on with our day.
Same story. Different place and time. In the absence of nearby relatives, I grew up celebrating every milestone and holiday with a tight-knit group of family friends. One Thanksgiving, two of the boys picked tomatoes from my dad’s garden, climbed to the top of our swing set, and chucked them into our neighbor’s pool. I don’t know how our parents found out about it but they did… and it was the first and the last time anything like that happened at a family function.
This was many, many years ago. We all see one another less frequently now, but the tomato story still comes up almost every Thanksgiving.
Yes, that was dumb…
We were “just kids” too at the time. All of us have since managed to grown into well-adjusted, functioning, socially responsible adults. One of the boys just started med school and the other is an analysts for a financial firm. I’m raising two little people of my own now, who in spite of a lapse in judgement here and there truly are awesome, kind, and considerate children.
We’re all doing just fine.
We’ve adopted a new mantra in our family recently: Mistakes are just an opportunity to learn. As a parent, I sometimes find it hard to let this learning take place– always hovering, warning, worrying, waiting to catch– and allow things to simply resolve themselves. Also, I don’t actually get to control what the lesson will be…
My children may not be perfect, but neither are the teachable moments that come our way. What I anticipated would be an afternoon of natural consequences ended up being an excellent example of extending grace and forgiveness, which was far more powerful and lasting, in my opinion.
People… screw up. It’s a fact of being human. We all make a mistake and sometimes there’s simply no way to fix them. But you CAN always own it, learn from it, pick yourself up, and do better next time… and yes, let others do the same.
So maybe it really is okay that tomatoes and gingerbread houses sometimes get tossed over the fence and that kids be allowed to “just be kids”. Just as long as it doesn’t happen twice…