Originally posted March 1, 2008
Noah greeted me waving a half-eaten drumstick in one hand and a
chubby fistful of steak fries in the other. I'd just
deposited him and some grocery bags on the kitchen floor so that I
could run back out to the car for the rest. Upon my return I
discovered that he'd wasted no time opening the fried chicken from
the deli counter, and the box of grapes was lying open beside him
on the kitchen floor. I considered tossing my
self-sufficient two-year-old into his highchair and tidying
up, but he had such a triumphant, toothy grin on his face that I
just didn't have the heart to spoil his good time - especially
after he extended his drumstick to me, a tasty olive-branch of
sorts. And it was. I joined Noah in his picnic, and we
had a grand time giggling about how silly we were and how different
it felt to eat on the floor. The only thing missing was a
patchwork picnic blanket.
Though I had a hunch I was being very hip and
progressive, the truth is, I was just too pooped from
keeping up with my toddler to protest his impromptu picnic.
I'd merely hoped to avert a meltdown (mine), not sow the
seeds of genius in my kid.
No doubt a bunch of you out there are waving your drumsticks in
weary recognition. Dr. Bertie Kingore, noted education
consultant and Mom to three gifted sons, might say we've all "done
good," however. A pioneer in her field, Kingore often makes
humorous and helpful presentations to educators and parents on the
subject of understanding the special needs of gifted kids.
(For the record, I think all kids are gifted. It's our
job to notice and nurture their particular gifts.) I recently
had the pleasure of hearing Kingore speak, and especially
appreciated an anecdote she related about a prominent scientist,
who credits an early incident with his Mother with the
inspiration he needed for the confidence and freedom to develop
into a curious scientist.
When he was two years old, he tried to remove a bottle of milk
from the refrigerator. The heavy bottle slipped his grasp and
milk poured all over the kitchen floor. Upon surveying the
mighty puddle of milk, his Mother expressed awe. (Yes,
hearing this gave me pause, too.)
"What an amazing puddle," she admired. "I don't think I've
ever seen such a huge puddle of milk before," she
exclaimed. Without uttering a shaming word or scornful tone,
she then gave him the option of using a mop, a sponge or a towel
and with him proceeded to clean up the spill. Then they took
the empty milk bottle out to the backyard, where his Mom suggested
he fill it with water and practice carrying it. The scientist
cited this event as the pivotal moment he learned that it was okay
to make mistakes.
We've all heard stories of inventions that began as accidents
(think Penicillin and Post-it notes). With us humans,
accidents are bound to happen. It's how we respond to them
that matters, especially in our work as parents. It's okay to
break the rules and make messes on purpose, too, and, I point out -
lest anyone be concerned that I'm advocating a complete abdication
of any parental limit-setting - it's also cool to learn clean up
after yourself. In fact, as this story illustrates, it's even
cooler to learn to help each other, too, even if we didn't make the
mess in the first place.
I absolutely love this story. I gave that scientist's Mom
a virtual high-five, then indulged myself in a little pat on my own
back at the fried-chicken-picnic memory it inspired.
But then I thought about it. Fried chicken is one thing,
but how on earth did that woman have the presence of mind to
reframe something that would make most parents wilt with defeat
into a teachable moment and a boon to her little son's
blossoming self-esteem, all in one fell swoop? I gotta figure
that she didn't always respond to her little boy's messes with such
But every now and then, we parents get it right. Here's a
high-five for you, too.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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