K and I had a recent conversation about homework that ended with me saying something like “You’re an awesome kid and I know that. But you need to remember actions have consequences and you’re at an age where some of those consequences will be things I just can’t fix.”
K gave me a hug and walked away. Out of nowhere, I remembered an incident with her bike when she was about four years old. I was following behind her as she rode around our block. It’s a safe neighborhood, all side streets, but on one stretch the drivers go pretty fast. We were on that stretch headed toward the stop sign. I knew she would stop but like always, I called ahead “stop at the stop sign!” I watched in horror as she never slowed down and went right through it. I started running and caught up to her on the other side.
“Get off the bike”
“Mom, I tried to stop”
“Get off the bike”
“I tried to stop but I was going too fast”
“If you’re going too fast to stop, you are going too fast. Get. Off. That. Bike. Now. Do you understand what could have happened to you? Do you understand if someone hit you with their car, you could be so hurt, I couldn’t fix it? Do you understand?”
She got off the bike and the tears started to fill her eyes. “Mom, do you still love me?” Tears ran down my face as I held her. I took a deep breath and said, “Of course I love you. If you don’t remember anything else I’ve ever told you, remember this. There is NOTHING that you could do, there is no mistake you could make that would EVER make me stop loving you. “
I wonder if kids realize that as parents our sole purpose isn’t to critique their lives by wielding a huge red Sharpie marker. We don’t want our interactions with them to be those of the Grand Editor, circling this error and crossing out this one. We are trying to give them the knowledge to make the right choice – to buckle that seat belt, skip that party, turn down that drink, avoid that boy, call for a ride instead of getting in that car – because the consequence of the wrong choice can’t be undone.
I guess the best we can do is to use the fine point marker or even a pen when possible. And a reminder that there is no choice, regardless of consequence, that could ever make us stop loving them. I told that once to the girl with the light-up sneakers riding a little pink bike with training wheels. I better tell her again. That, at least, is something I can fix.