I always hear people talk about teachable moments in parenting, those times when an error, or poor behavior choice, or strange event, or anything, really, provides us with a chance to implicitly teach our children something about the world. I'm sure I navigate hundreds of those every week, just like all parents, but most of the time it's done automatically.
Occasionally, however, I'm confronted with what I'm sure is one of those great teachable moments, and I have no idea what to do. And this is what happened today.
Last night, I stayed up too late needle-felting a small heart for each chick for Valentine's Day (yes, I had known for 364 days that another Valentine's Day was on its way...). These were my first needle felting projects and, while they are a little wonky and a little too thin, I was generally happy with them and excited to present them to the chicks.
Morning came, much too soon for an overly-tired needle-felting mama, and I gave each chick her Valentine's Day present: a felted heart and a chocolate ladybug. Both girls' eyes absolutely lit up at the sight of the hearts, and Ninna actually said "oooooooooh!" I was about to scribble this down on my mental list of parenting successes when Ninna realized that I was handing the lavender heart to Bojey and the fuchsia heart to her. Suddenly she was spouting projectile tears, horrified that I failed to get the memo that she had changed her favorite color to lavender at some point in the previous twelve hours. She continued to cry and refused the heart.
Now, I have to say that this is not typical Ninna behavior. It's really not. If it were, I probably would have been extremely annoyed. But this was clearly a bit of an emotional outburst by a four and a half year old. So I wasn't annoyed, but I was...I don't know what--confused? Yes, confused, I suppose, not so much about what was happening but about how to respond. I didn't really want to make a big deal out of it, but I had to do something.
I first nonchalantly asked Bojey if perhaps she wanted to trade, as if she were not fully aware of what was happening before her eyes. Bojey, being smart enough to know that she possessed the prize, informed us that she'd like to keep the lavender one, thank-you-very-much. Eventually some distraction presented itself, and we moved on to getting the chicks dressed.
A little while later, I decided to tell Ninna that during Bojey's nap, she and I would sit on the couch and I would needle felt her another heart while we had a conversation about gift-giving and receiving. What that pretty much boils down to is this: I still didn't have a great response, but I thought perhaps I'd get a lightening bolt of inspiration by the time Bojey's naptime rolled around.
Lunchtime came and went, I put Bojey down to sleep, and I sat down with Ninna, still waiting for the inspiration...and it never came. I think if I were reading a novel, or someone's autobiography, this would be one of those formative moments when the protagonist's mother opens her mouth and pearls of wisdom spill out, time stops, and we are all be better people for having been exposed to the sage words of this gentle, all-knowing matriarch.
Except it was me, overly-tired, sitting in front of a fake fireplace, pushing a pile of crap over to the other end of the couch so there was room to sit, plopping myself down and waiting for that matriarch to whisper those words in my ear so I could pass them on to Ninna. And she didn't, so I had to make them up.
I honestly don't even remember what I said because it really wasn't noteworthy. I mumbled something about how we thank people when they make things for us, not necessarily because we like the object, but because we appreciate the fact that they took the time to make something for us. The thing is, I don't want Ninna to think that she has to pretend to like something that she doesn't, or, worse still, that she has to try to force herself to actually like the thing. On the other hand, a little gratitude never hurt anyone.
I think, ultimately, the lesson for her ended up having nothing to do with what I was trying to convey. She was so thoroughly excited by the uninterrupted hour with me on the couch, while I was doing nothing but chatting with her and making her something, that the focus for her wasn't that she was learning a lesson, but that she was getting one-on-one time with mama. And, perhaps, a little bit of recognition that we deserve forgiveness even when we burst into tears when someone gives us a present.
Did I do the right thing? Did I do the wrong thing? I don't really know. When I thought about it later, I could envision parenting "experts" with opposing viewpoints finding equally viable flaws in my approach. Those who are even more focused than I on being sensitive to children's developmental expectations might not like my desire to teach this sort of gratitude and selflessness to one so young. On the flip side, those who are far more strict and conservative in their parenting views might think I was a pushover for making her a new present.
So I guess I feel OK right where I am, today. Right at my little point of parenting that seems to be successful, most of the time, for me and my chicks.
And with that, I say, Happy Valentine's Day! I hope your holiday teachable moments went smoothly ;).