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Life Lessons Gone Awry

Joined: 11/6/2008
Posts: 702
Last week my soon to be 5 year old daughter shuffled groggily into our bedroom to snuggle between my husband and me. When she breathily asked, “Is it a school day today?” I realized that the night before she fell asleep in the car on the way home from her grandmother’s house. Too exhausted for the evening routine, we put her to bed without brushing her teeth as evidenced by her morning, child, hot, dragon breath.

I suddenly thought of the sad tooth picture at the dentist office – the one with the cavity stricken tooth pouting from the decay his negligent owner had blighted upon him. So, I acted fast. “Hey Raina. Why don’t you go brush your teeth really quick before you snuggle with us?”

“Okay, Mommy. Can someone open my cabinet for me?” Raina’s bathroom has a series of step stools rigged for her to reach the toilet comfortably as well as the pedestal sink. She can just about reach her medicine cabinet, but only by stretching in a precarious way.

I patted my husband lovingly on the back. “Hey, babe. Do you think you could help Raina with her cabinet?” My husband’s demeanor in the morning is unlike that of his cheerful giddiness the rest of the day. When he first wakes up he needs to do so in stages:
stage 1) roll over a bunch hugging various pillows
stage 2) pretend to still be sleeping
stage 3) make weird waking up noises
stage 4) prop himself up on his elbows and stretch out his back (much like a baby cobra position in yoga)
stage 5) say something somewhat incoherent or just plain mean
stage 6) get to the standing position and either a) hastily put on whatever outfit is laying on the floor OR b) do an odd Broadwayish routine including dance and a portion of a song.
After all of these stages are complete, he can then successfully start his morning routine.

He had not even made it to stage 2 when I requested his help with Raina’s cabinet. Without moving from his spot, he said “Raina, you need to try and open your cabinet by yourself today.”

Raina already in the bathroom called back sweetly, “I can’t reach it!”

Eric called back, “Did you try?”

“I can’t reach it, Daddy. I don’t need to try it.” She sounded determined to get him to aid her tooth brushing.

“Raina, you need to try and reach it before you ask for my help.”

“Daddy, just come in here and help me open it.”

And this is when things went horribly awry. Eric bypassed all of his waking up stages and marched sans Broadway flair into the bathroom. He then said to Raina, “Honey, in the Thiegs family we don’t quit because quitters are losers. The Thiegs family is full of winners and winners try. Only losers never try.” He paused for dramatic effect before he asked, “Do you understand what I am saying to you?”

I heard Raina’s faint whimper before she said, “I’m a loser, Daddy.”

I opened my mouth in a silent scream. I didn’t intervene or go to either of their rescue. I saw the train wreck happening and let it run its derailed course knowing that the wreckage was not life altering.

The truth is that even when we mean well, parents often lead their children down the right path for a good life lesson and somehow we still overshoot our destination or we navigate away from it completely.

Eric came back with a drawn expression on his face and said, “That didn’t go the way I wanted it to go. I hugged her and then I opened her cabinet for her.” We then talked about how our first child is really our testing ground and we won’t make the same “life lesson” errors with our second child who isn’t even 7 months old.

I’m sure, though, that in our well-meaning misdirection that we will make new mistakes with our second child just as we are sure to continue making mistakes with our first. We will hug our girls through their errors and ours and know that when we teach them life lessons, they are really teaching us greater lessons about life from their point of view.

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