I don’t claim any kind of special parenting proficiency but every once in a while I make a point that sticks.
Hey, even a blind squirl occasionally finds a nut.
“Sorry” is a concept that we all try to teach our kids from a very early age. Some of the first words we insist children say are: “please,” “thank you” and “I’m sorry.”
But what does it mean? “Please” and “thank you” are self explanatory but “I’m sorry” can be difficult, not so much its use but its over-use. It should not be something said flippantly. When you are apologizing you should look the person in the eye and really mean it. Otherwise the words become empty.
Once the practice is in place- comes the more difficult idea that it does not actually fix anything. Atonement is well and good but it is better to be aware of yourself enough not to transgress in the first place.
Once kids master the habit it becomes easy and days are filled with:
“Oh I didn’t mean to, sorry;”
“Sorry! I wasn’t looking!”
“I forgot, sorry!” Etc.
The boys are great at all the basics, but last year we reached a point where they were old enough to take responsibility for their choice to trespass. Our focus needed to shift to a greater awareness of the things around our bodies and our actions.
I decided to try an object lesson to show the what saying “sorry” does and doesn’t do.
I handed them both an egg and told them to go outside. Once in the garden, I told them both to smash their egg. (I believe that the major export from boy-land for the first five years of life is ‘destruction’ and this request would not be a problem.) They both looked at me like there was some catch, my face assured them I meant exactly what I said.
Full of glee, they both smashed (and for good measure stomped) their respective eggs into tinny bits. Smiling, they both looked at me expectedly.
Grinning back I told them “Now say ‘sorry’ to your egg.” They both looked down and said “sorry.”
“Humm” I said “maybe if you said it louder. Try yelling it. ”
“SORRY!!!!” They bellowed.
“What does saying ‘sorry’ do?” I asked.
“Nothing” responded the oldest.
“Exactly.” I beamed down.
You could practically see the light go off in the eldest. “Nothing you say will un-break the egg.” He said. (He has always been VERY perceptive.)
“Yes, good! What is the only way you could have saved the egg?”
“Not break it at all?” Pipped the little one. (He is also scary smart.)
“YES! Look- you always have to say sorry AND mean it BUT it doesn’t undo anything. People’s feelings are like eggs, you have to be careful what you do and say so that you don’t break them because ‘sorry’ will not take it back. You can’t un-hear things or undo them. You do always have to take responsiblily for consequences of your actions. If you are aware of yourself; you stand a better chance of not doing something you will have to apologize for later.”
At this point, their well meaning faces glazed over and I knew we were at the limit of lesson absorption for the day. I hugged them both and ended any further elaboration.
They had done well! It wasn’t till the next day that they both really got it.
We had just had a decent storm and the large one decided to make an awesome snow cave into the side of a mondo drift. He is industrious and after over an hour of shoveling- ended up with a decent cave both him and his brother could find in easily.
He called me over to look at his accomplishment and as he was explaining all the bells and whistles of his creation his equally excited little brother climbed over to it saying “I’m going to walk on the roof!!”
The next five minuted went exactually like you would expect:
Youngest walks on the roof of snow cave as oldest yells “NO!!!” The structure collapses, oldest turns to me crying and buries his face in my midsection, youngest emerges from the wreckage saying; wait for it…
“Sorry doesn’t unbreak it!!!” His brother sobbed from my jacket.
The little one looked so hurt. They had been on such a high and now- tears for everyone.
I hugged the big one and assured him that we would make another one and that it was not the end of the world. Disappointing yes, but fixable.
Pulling the youngest to me; I looked into those beautiful big-little eyes and said quietly “do you understand a little better about the egg, now?”
“Ahh.” He nodded, eyes brimming with tears and comprehension. I have seen this look many times on his face over the years. When I do, I know he GETS IT. I hugged him too.
We rebuilt the fort and the little one played whatever game the big one wanted for the rest of the afternoon. They really are some of the best kids in the world. Watching them grow and learn is the most astounding thing I have ever been close to. I’m not their mom but those are my loves and every-time we share an experience like this it makes everything worth it.
I knew fresh eggs were good to have around but I never expected they would be such useful parenting tool.