A loud noise reverberated from the next room over.
You’re a parent, so you know. You know the fears that run through your mind when there’s a BANG somewhere, and your child is also… somewhere.
Of course I was in the shower. Heaven forbid I make it peacefully through a whole shower.
I listened for crying. No. Probably no one was injured.
I stepped out of the shower and dried off, just in time.
Just in time to see my naked 5 year old run into the bathroom.
Covered head to toe in orange paint.
And the carpet was also bright orange, leading from the bathroom back to his play area. I plopped my son into the bathtub and then turned the corner to see where the bang had come from.
I never found out what actually caused the bang.
The floor was a giant puddle of orange paint. The table was also covered in orange. A nearby room divider, orange. Chairs, orange.
How did I react to all of this? Was I angry? Sad? Disappointed? Overwhelmed?
Did I react by shouting, or crying, or punishing, or falling apart?
I reacted with pure delight. I laughed. I made jokes with my son about the situation. I listened to him tell me what happened. I helped him wash off. I cleaned up the paint. Well, most of it. That carpet is always going to be a bit orange from now on!
Why did I react this way? I’m not a saint, or a robot, or a doormat, I promise!
But, I do know three things. And those three things change everything.
The third one is about the unicorn that you don’t want to miss, but that’s the hardest one to explain, so I’ll get to it last.
First, I know that when I get a head start, I can handle MY shit and not foist it off onto my child.
When I heard that BANG I knew I had three seconds to get my shit together.
You know what I mean by my shit, right? My baggage? My years of building up an idea of what’s right and what’s wrong, what I deserve, and what “ought” to be.
I’ve been around long enough to have the weight of the world on my shoulders. I know how much new carpet costs and how hard it is to clean paint off of wicker.
But my 5 year old doesn’t know that stuff, and he doesn’t NEED to know. That’s MY shit. Not his. MINE.
When I get those early warnings (sometimes it sounds like, “Mom. I need to tell you something,”) I get my shit together. I get my face in order. I get my breathing steady.
This time I prepared to support and care for my son if something had happened that he was hurt or sad about. Or I was ready with laughter and ease if he was happy about the bang.
The second thing I KNOW is my own values. When you know your vales it’s almost like a magic trick that makes every decision easier.
I didn’t come by this knowledge of myself easily. I came by it through years of hard, deep, personal work. Now I know what I value. And what I don’t value.
I do not value money or possessions or tidiness. I do value creativity, autonomy, individuality, exploration, curiosity, and wild abandon. I know that I value these things deep down in my soul.
So the paint can wait.
Additional Reading: I'm A Mom, Not a Short Order Cook - another article about focusing on what really matters.
Did I clean it up? Of course. And I didn’t even let him help, because there was no way I was going to let that mess get worse with sub-par “helping”!
Did I cry over the carpet a little bit? Yup. I cannot believe he freaking walked in the paint. Like, give me a break here kid!
But all that waited. It waited a good long time until the story was over and the bath was over and the moment was passed. I waited until cleaning the paint would not be a frantic thing I did to manage a crisis. I waited until the task fell into the background with the routine chores I do willingly because I love my home and I love my family.
Now, here’s the third thing I know.
I KNOW that I don’t want to miss the magic of my time with my child.
My naked, orange 5 year old had run through the paint to come tell me about what had happened.
His face was glowing with excitement as he explained that he had been making color combinations in order to make a unicorn! He had only needed a few more ingredients! But then BAM! The experiment exploded!
In his excited expression, I could see before me a mad scientist, an alchemist, an explorer of exotic realms of the mind.
What if I’d MISSED that???
What if I’d yelled or scolded or been disappointed or disgusted and MISSED how awesome my kid is and the magic he was trying to make on an ordinary Monday afternoon?
What if he’d never TOLD me?
Or what if I made him feel guilty or ashamed or like his magic was a bother to me?
Maybe he’d be a little slower to tell me next time.
If I hadn’t seen that delight on his face, maybe I’d be a little slower to see it next time.
Then eventually that magic between you is gone.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not giving that up. I’m not handing it over to my fears about grownup bullshit.
I never want to forget that my children are capable of brewing up unicorns in the weary moments when I turn my back to take a shower.
If you told me right now that I could always hold that magic in my heart but in exchange all of my possessions would forever be broken and covered in orange paint, I’d make that trade in an instant.
So I do. I do make that trade.
Every time something happens and I know I’ve got 3 seconds to decide how to react, I make that trade. I make that choice.
I decide that my children, our relationships, and their unicorns are more important than anything else.
PS: If you need a step-by-step guide to parenting with connection FROM SCRATCH, check out the Parenting With Wild Connection Workbook and Journal.
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