Archive | April 17, 2012

Sorry seems to be the hardest action

We were back to our normal homeschooling routine yesterday, starting with a little morning seatwork. In my experience, any time I temporarily alter a child’s routine, I’m going to get a certain amount of pushback when you return to regularly scheduled programming — in addition to shaking off my own set of cobwebs.  My usual strategy is to start Beanie with a coloring assignment and Bugaboo with a new skill, as Beanie loves to color and will follow instructions for, say, color by numbers, independently.

Bugaboo is working on the rudiments of place value, finding groups of ten and remainders when given a set of objects, and she’s actually picking it up fairly quickly. We did a couple of exercises together, then she tried one by herself.  When I checked her work, I miscounted the marbles in the problem and mistakenly told her she had done it wrong.  Her forehead creased, and she began to count them again, very slowly.  As she was counting, I realized she had the right answer, so I laid a hand on her shoulder and apologized, “I miscounted, and you did it right.  I’m sorry I wasn’t more careful and that I told you the wrong thing.  I will be sure to double-check next time.”  She replied with a cheery smile and, “That’s okay,” then started counting the next group of marbles.

In the meantime, Beanie was pretending her crayons were ballerinas, and was making them “dance” in the air above her color-by-numbers page.  Part of the reason I like to start her with that kind of exercise is that, as with most 3 1/2 year olds, she finds getting and staying focused to be rather challenging.  The world is interesting, and she’d rather explore it and find new and interesting things to do with what she finds than sit in a chair and follow instructions.  Unfortunately, that sitting in a chair when you’d rather be doing something else is, in itself, a necessary skill.  I issued a series of gentle reminders that she would need to actually apply the crayons to the paper in order to complete her assignment, and was met each time with a sighed, “I’m sorry,” and a thousand watt Beanie smile.

It drives Bugaboo a little nuts when Beanie makes up games with her crayons instead of doing her work, and over time, she will start to focus on her younger sister instead of the task at hand.  Of course, Beanie appears to be having much more fun avoiding her work than Bugaboo is having doing hers, so Bugaboo (who is not quite 5) will eventually start trying to dodge her task as well.  Her favorite method of avoidance is to try to convince me that she doesn’t know how to hold a pencil or write a letter or number.  Since she’s been doing all of the above for over eighteen months, she’s generally unsuccessful, and yesterday morning was no exception.  Luckily, our oldest blessing waited until she was on her last math problem before she became frustrated, so it was easy to give her a big hug, compliment her on the work she’d done, and remind her that if she finished this last problem, she could go take a break and show her little brothers how to count blocks (she loves to teach the little guys).

Quickly finishing her assignment and getting a high-five of approval from me, Bugaboo zipped off to go find her brothers and the big bag of blocks.  Beanie started after her, but I called her back to her chair and reminded her that she had work to do.  She immediately responded with the “you’ve just told me the world’s chocolate supply has ben destroyed” face and a mournful wail of, “I’m SORRY!”  Hugging her, I explained to her that neither weeping, nor wailing, not gnashing of teeth were necessary, just the use of a crayon, a workbook, and the kitchen table.

I may have mentioned in the past that Beanie is the resident drama queen.

Fifteen minutes later, when Bugaboo returned to the table to work on her penmanship, Beanie had actually colored one cell of her picture, and was finding all the other spots containing the number 10.  Bugaboo finished practicing uppercase and lowercase letters and finding “the” in a storybook.  Beanie had taken two potty breaks and one water break, but had still not completed her first task of the day.  She had, however, devolved into wailing, “I’m sorry,” about once per minute.  I sent Bugaboo off for another break, and took the opportunity to speak gently to Beanie about the need to do the things we must before we do the things we like.  I pulled my chair close to her and coached her through the color by number page.

Ninety minutes after we’d begun, it was finished, and she was finally able to take the certificate of completion out of the back of the workbook.  I carefully printed her name on it and used a glue dot to stick it to a pane of the kitchen window, to her eminent delight.  She breezed through her numbers and letters while Jackie had a tea party with her Strawberry Shortcake dolls and the boys rolled cars, blocks, and Lite Sprites around the living room.

As an aside, Baby Guy is currently his siblings’ favorite — now that he is crawling proficiently and able to follow simple instructions, he can retrieve any toy that rolls under the couch or loveseat.

We ended our school day with a reading and project from Beanie’s devotional, which happened to be on the subject of confessing one’s wrongs and apologizing for them.  That’s a tough concept for a lot of adults, and it’s challenging for tiny people as well.  At any rate, we read the story of one sister knocking over the other sister’s blocks, then lying about it initially, and then we talked for a while about the importance of not just saying the word, “sorry,” but doing what we can to rectify whatever hurt we’ve caused.  I modified the devotional’s suggested discussion, which included the giving of physical presents wrapped in handmade paper to people we’ve wronged, because I don’t want to give them the impression that when they’ve made a choice that hurt someone, it can all be made better by giving them a present.

I used examples from our learning time to clarify what could be considered a wrong — my telling Bugaboo she was wrong when she wasn’t, Beanie playing with her crayons instead of doing her work, Bugaboo telling me she didn’t know what the number 2 looked like, Beanie kicking Mr. Man when he wandered into the kitchen in search of a drink, me forgetting to check Baby Guy’s diaper before I put him in the high chair; we talked through what the right thing to do would be.  In most cases, the simple answer is an apology, preferably accompanied by a hug, correcting oneself (admitting I was wrong, coloring the picture, writing the number, changing the diaper and giving some extra snuggles), and asking God to help us not make the same mistake again. Kicking one’s brother might require a little more than a hug and, “I’m sorry;” doing something nice for him would definitely be in order.  Beanie actually took that quickly to heart, and ran to the living room to give him an extra hug and open the toy box for him.

The girls spent a little time talking about the things they could have done differently that morning, and then were ready for a project. While the project in the devotional was for sponge-printed wrapping paper, I changed it to sponge-painting the fence, since they recently received a whole bunch of those gelatin capsules that release sponges when dropped in warm water.  Two buckets of paint, a handful of spongy dinosaurs, and an instruction to go make something beautiful in the world later, they were off.

Beanie painted herself instead of the fence.  I’d show you a picture, but I was too busy keeping her from touching or sitting on anything to grab the camera.  One bath later, we all reassembled at the kitchen table for lunch.  When Bugaboo asked for a cup of water, I realized that I’d forgotten to get the cups (none of them can reach that cupboard, not can they get to the tap), so I took the opportunity to point out that I had committed a small wrong by what I had not done — by not setting out cups of water to wash down our bread, cheese, and fruit — that I was sorry for it, and that I would now get down the cups so some hot and thirsty small people could drink their water.

Beanie didn’t want to eat her lunch, either.

Beanie also didn’t want to stay quiet during quiet time.

Beanie also didn’t want to stop kicking her siblings and I.

Beanie also didn’t want to eat her dinner.

I could keep listing out the things Beanie didn’t want to do, but I’ve already burned through 1500 words describing what must seem like minutiae to make a broader point about something very important that I will likely spend the rest of my life teaching our children, and trying to perfect in myself.  It’s the fact that, as I explained many times to Beanie yesterday when every redirection and corrected was met with freshets of tears and wails of, “I’m sorry!” — “Sorry isn’t something you say.  It’s something you do.  If you’re sorry, stop doing it, and choose to do the right thing.”

You see the key to being sorry is to actually regret that you’ve done something that wronged another.  It’s not regretting getting caught, it’s not regretting getting in trouble, it’s actual remorse for an action and deciding to change my ways.  We are all fallible, and that to become better followers of Christ and better human beings generally, we must be able to recognize and admit that we have erred, and to have a firm purpose of amendment.  We must take responsibility for both the good and bad consequences of our actions and choices, and genuinely regret it when we’ve caused hurt to another, to ourselves, and to the Lord who gave us life.  There’s no need for lingering guilt or scrupulosity of we simply resolve to ask for God’s grace in amending our thoughts, words, and deeds.  That doesn’t mean that we’ll ever be perfect, and it doesn’t mean that we won’t utter hurtful words or commit hurtful deeds ever again.  It simply means that, over time, instead of making a great and public show of feigned remorse, we will make a quiet amend and take the opportunity to grow in both humility and wisdom.  To put it very bluntly, I will be far more pleased if my children grow to be wise and humble hairdressers than if they grow up to be wealthy and arrogant celebrities.

Teaching humility and charity is the toughest part of my job as a mom.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, You have entrusted the education of Your blessings to my husband and I.  We are grateful for the opportunity to train up children in Your ways, and even more grateful for the example of humility and mildness You set for us.  Please help us to teach them to be remorseful when they have wronged You or any of Your children, and to ask You for the grace of a changed heart.  You taught us that every human being errs, and that the guilt and shame come only from attempting to conceal our errors from each other and from You, who are all-knowing.  You also taught us that every offense can be forgiven if we but ask with a humble and contrite spirit.  Please help us to set a righteous example for them of how to admit fault, and how to forgive, both with love and humility.