Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Forgive Me

Do the JIBs have a sappiest post ever award? Because if so, I'm going to nominate this post. It's very sappy. But it is also very true.

Ann has had a little red bowl for most of the time she's been eating real food. In the classic style of the unique personalities of my kids, Andy destroyed in mere moments what Ann kept in great condition for years.

Unfortunately, while Ann was at preschool today, Andy was eating some dry Cheerios put of the red bowl. Between my own fixation on Cheerios lately, and his, I can't keep enough of them around, even pre-Pesach.

Andy dropped the bowl, and the nature of the piece that cracked off and the resulting sharpness meant that the only option was to throw away the red bowl.

Knowing that Ann is a pensive kid who does well when things are explained to her, I saved the bowl and the shard for a post-preschool discussion. With one significant deviation from the truth.

Ann has seen quite a few of her things get ruined by Andy. Torn book pages and demolished projects are something I do my best to prevent, but sometimes they're among the inevitable little brother nuisances. I decided to cover for Andy this time.

Instead of telling Ann that Andy broke the bowl (by accident) I sat her down, showed her the two pieces it had become, and explained that while I was washing the dishes, it slipped from my hands and broke. And that I'm so sorry, but we're going to have to thank it for being a great bowl, and say goodbye to it.

Ann had some questions about when and how it had happened, but overall, she was very calm about it, and less emotional than I'd worried she would be. I asked Ann if she forgave me for what had happened to her little red bowl, and she told me, after a moment, that she did. No tears, just a little confusion, and a glimpse into that world that exists here when she's not home.

But the essential nugget from this whole exchange came a couple of minutes afterward.

Ann looked at me with those eyes that probably take up at least half her face and said, "Do you forgive ME, Mommy?"

"Forgive you for what?"

"For when I sometimes break YOUR things or don't do the right thing."

Wow. Are you really three-and-a-half?

Because Ann is little, she asked her question with an honest, innocent seriousness. Not the bargaining, rude, self-righteousness I can probably expect in about ten years.

"Yes, Ann. I do forgive you. And I'm sorry that I get upset about the things you do sometimes."

We talked for a minute about how things like bowls and books and toys and papers are nice, but they aren't the most important part of our life, because they are just things. And that the main thing that we care about is each other.

By now most of my readers are either smiling tenderly or throwing up. Hopefully it's the former. For the latter group: How is Ann going to recognize those sappy but true cliches in life if she's never heard them before?


SaraK said...

Beautiful! Not having kids yet, myself, I am always wondering how to pass on good values.

socialworker/frustrated mom said...

I could just imagine how taken a back you were, I would be, that is very beautiful and intuitive of her to say that.

SephardiLady said...

I love this post.

table nine said...

Its moments like those that life just makes sense. Ann is so sweet.

orieyenta said...

Awww...so sweet.

Hila said...

Wow. I'm actually tearing up. So sweet and so insightful of Ann-- what a gift she is!

Halfnutcase said...

this is a really, really nice story.

She sounds like an angel.

mother in israel said...

Okay, I tried to hold back but I can't help it. It sparked a lovely discussion, but why lie? Would you want her to cover up for someone else, or let someone else cover up for her? Do you want this to be the norm in your house? The truth doesn't always need to be stated explicitly but outright lying, within the family is different. By sharing with her what really happened, and helping her analyze her feelings about her careless little brother, who knows what might have come out. That genuine opportunity is lost.

LubyVitcher said...

Great post...
MII I almost agree, she could have said it was broken without any "blame" on herself or otherwise. It'sone of those things we do as Mommies to preserve the Sholom Bayis.

If this is how she is thinking at 3, are you scared of 13?? LOL (but in fear of my own future).

RaggedyMom said...

Mother in Israel - I hear what you're saying about the negative consequences of lying within the family on a regular basis.

I do want to make it clear that in no way am I afraid of my three-year-old daughter and her emotions and reactions. I don't condone trying to alter reality for our kids to make it more palatable since I do think that doing that hurts them in the long run, far worse than the immediate pain that the truth sometimes brings.

It is important to note that this lie was one of those occasional ones that (I think) all parents tell so that one detail of the event does not become the focus and the child can move on to the more salient part and deal with his/her feelings. I don't believe that parents who feel their children need 24/7 unaltered truth and should be consulted on major decisions have it quite right either.

My decision came mostly out of the fact that Ann has seen (and dealt with) quite a few of her things getting ruined or broken by Andy in the last couple of months, and while that's a part of life, I did want to address the issue of her loss of this sentimental item more than the Andy blame game and disappointment in him / sibling relationship strain.

If Andy were older and would be aware of my cover for him, I don't think I would have ever considered doing it. I think family members conspiring together to hide something from another is a very different matter, and rarely if ever appropriate.

I do think it's significant that I chose to show Ann the broken bowl and discuss the fact that it broke openly and honestly. Many parents I know would have thrown it out after she was asleep and then said it got lost or something similar.

I guess what I'm saying is that parenting (and remember that Ann is my first) is something that I am continually figuring out. I think that the delicate balance of navigating what to shield our children from and what explain to them openly (disappointment, loss, inconsistencies in life) is not determined by any "all or nothing" formulas, but a subtle, intuitive push-and-pull.

Hila said...


While I am not a mother yet myself, I also wanted to add that I agree with what you did, I wish my mother had done that with me once or twice as a child! My younger brother destroyed just about every toy/thing that was most important to me (which of course I realize now are not very important, but to a young kid they are)! It didn't help that I was resentful of him being born at all, seeing as I had 4 years to be the "baby" and then he had to come along---and be a BOY of all things!

If my mom had chosen to tell me that my Alice In Wonderland tape accidentally got crunched, or something like that, I'd have taken it much better than finding out that my little twerp of a brother had pulled all the tape out of the inside of the cassette. I know, not a great attitude for me to have, but like I said, I was a kid and I honestly remember feeling bitter about having my little brother in the first place. His breaking my stuff (a lot of times intentionally as he got older and realized it peeved me) irked me to no end, even though I know when he was a toddler he wasn't acting with malice.

Ok now I've rambled. Hmmm maybe I have some issues of my own to deal with! Ha ha! Anyway, for what it's worth, from what I can tell, you're doing a great job with your little ones!

PsychoToddler said...

Sounds like you're doing something right with that one.

You're fixated on Cheerios too? I get very nervous when our supply starts to get low. I get mad when the kids eat it instead of crispix or that fat non-octagoned brown stuff.

mother in israel said...

RM--I don't mean to pick on you or give you a hard time (and thank you for responding graciously). You strike me as a very conscientious, caring mother! And I don't mean to come across as an experienced expert because I struggle as well.

I commented because I believe that ethical behavior is the foundation of chinuch and counts more than just about anything else.

Obviously, you know your children best and had to choose what you felt was the best plan of action at that time. I know you didn't do it lightly.

If I may make another suggestion: Could you have taken the blame for letting Andy handle the red bowl in the first place, knowing his propensity for breaking things? Or for not supervising him carefully (if that was indeed the cause)? After all, he's only a toddler.

Hila--I think that most cases of sibling rivalry have more to do with parents than obnoxious toddler behavior. At least that is the conclusion I have come to, after much consultation, regarding the intense sibling rivalry at our house.

medicalmystery said...

hmm - if ann remebers this incident at all she will prob remeber that her mother was very sensitive to her loss. lies are slippery but some of the kindest moments in my early childhood were cushioned by little "tales" my mother soothed me with.

RaggedyMom said...

SaraK - To quote the movie Shine, "It's a lifelong struggle." :)

SWFM - I sure was. Thanks.

SL - I'm glad :)

TN - I couldn't agree more!

Orieyenta - :)

Hila - We're very fortunate parents.

Halfnutcase - Thank you.

PT - Thank you. The oncoming chametz-purge is the only thing keeping me from stockpiling Cheerios right . . . now. Don't tell any doctors, but I have actually been sprinkling a bit of sugar on mine (!!) before strategically placing some banana slices on there. Is the octagon cereal Chex?

RaggedyMom said...

Mother in Israel, I understand your suggestion to take on the responsibility rather than the blame for what happened. To me, both options are viable.

A dogmatic statement like "ethical behavior is the foundation of chinuch and counts more than just about anything else" is something that nobody would disagree with.

But I really don't feel that the anecdote I related was a matter of ethics and morals in chinuch. I can think of many other types of instances that I and most parents are faced with on a daily basis that would constitute a moral dilemma. In this case, I just don't think the concern applies.

Going over this in my mind, I'm not sure if you genuinely feel that the essential kernel to extract from the story I related was that there was a breach in parental ethics, or if your strong reaction was intended to stir up a little controversy.

That being said, I do find it valuable to hear the perspectives of others, and especially of other parents, especially those who, like yourself, are seasoned, yet also consider themselves lifelong learners.

PsychoToddler said...

I think the octagoned one is crispix. She's going for some kind of corn bran thing.

mother in israel said...

I wasn't trying to stir up controversy. I believe that deliberate lying to children is disrespectful. It's not even a question of being a seasoned parent; I have always felt that way. It's about the fundamental trust between a parent and a child. Sorry for being dogmatic.

I felt bad when I had to sneak my daughter a pill in a spoonful
of jelly to prepare her for
a dentist appt. In the end I decided it was justified but still a moral dilemma.I admit that's an extreme example.

table nine said...

Our 3yo daughter has a keen eye for detail. On our short walk home from school she points out nearly everything within her line of vision, commenting and questioning up a storm. More than once she has spotted a smashed beer bottle on the street and asked me why it was there. While this presents an "opportunity" to discuss the depravity of littering and public drunkeness, I have always responded that the person who left it there must have forgotten that the right place to put trash is in the garbage can. Is there an ounce of truth to my reply? I doubt it. I am certain that the most-likely-underage individual who threw the beer bottle down was laughing as it deliberately passed from his hand. But my daughter doesn't need to know that. Not right now.

I cannot agree that in parenting honesty is always the best policy. It is idealistic and impractical to view chinuch in black and white terms. Our job as parents is to provide the ideal environment for our children, and ultimately provide for them physically and emotionally. This changes not only with each child's age, but really from day to day, situation to situation. While unequivical truth may be right in one circumstance, it may not be the case in another. The challenge is to figure out what is right for our own unique family each time.

I am disappointed that whether or not RM's admission to breaking the bowl herself was a wrongful lie is the issue anyone took away from this heartwarming and innocent story. As a personal friend, I am taken aback at the implication that RM's "not supervising him carefully" could possibly be to blame in Andy's bowl dropping. We are not talking about a glass goblet here. It was a melamine bowl, specifically made for very young children. Even with the greatest of supervision, all children's items can and will break. Ann could have just as easily dropped it herself. I am surprised that someone who has never met RM could really question her parental guidance and decisions.

The earlier comment that RM seems to be a "very conscientious, caring mother" is dead on. She is one of the most practical, nurturing, and safety-conscious mothers I have ever met.

I believe RM's purpose in retelling this story was to share the beauty and innocence that lives within our children, not to spark an ethical debate, or receive flack for her decision to take the blame herself. Perhaps we can all learn a lesson from Ann's unassuming reply, and learn to see the world in simpler, sweeter terms ourselves, rather than looking for ways to catch each other doing what we belive to be the wrong thing.

mother in israel said...

I probably won't be able to respond again till after Shabbat--try not to castigate me too completely until I have a chance to defend myself. . .

mother in israel said...

Shavua tov.

RM, I am always very impressed by your approach and the way you write about your kids. And, even though we haven't yet met, I also consider you a friend.

I was surprised when you glossed over that part of the story, because I assumed that other parents (and you in particular) would see the issue the same way I did. Obviously I was wrong, and I hope we can agree to disagree. I took a chance that you would not be offended and I hope you see that for the compliment it was--I wouldn't post such a comment on most blogs. I probably could have phrased it better. At any rate your post got me thinking about why I avoid lying to my children, and I hope to post those thoughts on my blog (but I won't refer to this post unless you want me to). I haven't had much chance (or frame of mind) lately to sit and work on my blog, and I haven't even started getting ready for Pesach. But I will let you know when I write it.

Warmly, Mom in Israel

triLcat said...

MII: I see this as a Shalom Bayit issue. If a sister is constantly feeling that her little brother is destroying everything that matters to her, she will lose the ability to see the little brother as anything other than a destructive force in her life. Sometimes, just as Hashem Himself chose to lie to Avraham for Shalom Bayit, a mother needs to lie to her child for Shalom Bayit.

mother in israel said...

Glad I haven't registered everyone speechless. Trilcat, I would choose to handle it differently, but I see your point. I posted about my reasoning on my blog.

Table nine, I can now see that my suggestions weren't suitable for the circumstances. They were only suggestions.

RaggedyMom said...

As with all things, we all have our own opinions on this matter.

Having read A Mother in Israel's post on her own blog clarifying her views, I feel like I've gained some insight into her parenting philosophy. MiI, I thought your post was a clear statement of your take on lying to children.

For me, the issue of what to say and how to say it, particularly to young children, does not fall into absolutes of lie vs. truth. In my own upbringing, I was raised to understand that there can exist inconsistencies in what is said or done depending on the circumstances. Some may lump these as lies along with unfair bribing or trickery, but to me, they are very different. When I find out years later that something was different than I thought it was growing up, I don't feel duped. If anything, as a mother myself, I usually smile a little and often understand.

I don't say this in order to rationalize lying, but to express that I, too, had no doubts as to the integrity of my parents' approach to raising us despite the fact that there were decisions they made and information they were privy to, exclusive of us kids.

The example you gave of feeling bad about sneaking a (painkilling?) pill into jelly for a child who would otherwise be unprepared for a dental procedure is not a feeling I can relate to at all.

In situations my kids have had to face (such as medical ones) that can be highly unpleasant or scary, I face no qualms about not being 100% upfront with my kids, if I know as their parent that for this child at this time, direct honesty is not the course of action that will lead to the best result.

The example I gave in the original post was not a story about a medical or other emergent need to lie, but in our case, it was still the course of action that I felt (feel) was appropriate taking into account the big picture.

Although I strive to always treat my children with respect, I do recognize that as children, their perspective and ability to reason is not on par with mine. Their trust in me as a parent is based not on thinking that I will treat them as equals and that my ultimate goal is being unflinchingly honest, but on the security in knowing that my parenting decisions were made with their best interest in mind, whether or not they realized it or would have agreed at the time.

mother in israel said...

Thank you for sharing your perspective in such an eloquent way. As always, I am impressed by the sensitivity and thoughtfulness in your parenting choices.

I wouldn't say that my goal is unflinching honesty, but the same as yours: to establish trust and connection with our children. I enjoyed our discussion and learning about your approach.

RaggedyMom said...

Triclat - Thanks for weighing in with your thoughts :)

Mother in Israel - I'm glad we saw this thought process through to the gritty end and can continue our same level of amicable friendship :)

mother in israel said...