One night, when I was about 14, I was babysitting a boy who lived near my house. We were tossing a bag of marshmallows back and forth between the two of us, just for fun, and he started to throw them harder each time. I kept warning him, telling him to take it easy, before we broke something. He didn’t let up. One particular throw was at my face, and as I ducked it hit the lamp behind me, knocking it off it’s table. It shattered on the floor. I was mortified. He was slightly less worried, but it still subdued him and he helped me clean up the mess. I was really nervous to tell his parents when they got home. I remember apologizing profusely, telling them it was my fault, and that we shouldn’t have been messing around in the house like that. They laughed and shrugged it off. “Was anyone hurt?” No. “A lamp can be replaced.” And that was the end of it. On another occasion this kid went careening down the stairs and crashed into the panel of small windows that was part of a french door, shattering one of the small panes of glass. Once again, we cleaned it up and waited nervously. But we received the same reaction when his parents came home. “Things can be replaced. No need to fret over them.” The kid was a bit of a daredevil, so I figured these kinds of mishaps were apart of their everyday life. But he had such incredible spirit, such fearlessness. It was refreshing and exhilarating to be around him. He took risks, laughed loudly, and somehow convinced you to join in his fun.
I remember these things like they happened yesterday, and I remember this mother’s easy-going attitude. It’s the kind of attitude I try to carry with me. Always. Especially now that I have a toddler. Things are just things. If I don’t want something to get ruined, I put it away. I can bring it out again at a later time. If something is out, I may as well consider it fair game for being broken, stained, ruined, etc. (This is also how I kind of view money as I enter a casino… the money is already gone, why get upset over losing it? This is probably why I don’t frequent casinos. Some may consider this a pessimistic approach, I simply consider it as prepping myself for the inevitable.)
But there’s something to be said about viewing things in this way… about keeping expectations reasonable and not stressing about something that is just not worth stressing about. It’s how I’m able to focus on what’s important. And it’s how I’m able to keep my cool when messes are made and belongings are broken.
At our parent/toddler group the other day one of the little boys sat down by our potted tree and proceeded to pull out the dead leaves, crunching them into bits on the floor around the pot. When that was done he continued with the dirt, scooping it out with his tiny toy bulldozer. I love watching this kind of exploratory play, and I let him go. I don’t think his mom noticed right away, or if she did I’m glad she didn’t stop him. He was so into his work, it would’ve been a shame to interrupt him. When he finally turned around and looked over at us (maybe someone noticed him and called his name?), I wanted to make sure he wasn’t admonished for the important work he had been doing. “WOW! Did you crunch ALL those leaves and pile the dirt around the pot?” I said immediately, with a smile. He gave me such a huge, proud smile back and vigorously nodded his head. There was no shame, and I was glad. “Awesome work!” I glanced to the other moms, half laughing, to find them nearly laughing, too. The boy’s mom also seemed a little flustered…it was a huge mess. I told her not to worry about it, it could all be easily swept and vacuumed up. But it was this particular situation that made me think, again, of those times babysitting. Things are just things. They can be broken and ruined and easily replaced. But the spirits of our children? They can certainly be broken… but not so easily replaced.