How were you brave?

I’ve seen some posts floating around Facebook (like this one) about conversations to have with your kid every day. There are a few different versions, but they generally focus on the questions the authors have decided to ask their kid each night and how it helps the relationship and yada, yada, yada. I’m a sucker for those kinds of things and, admittedly, the concept seemed pretty decent. (It’s also a condensed version of the “30 questions you can ask your kid instead of ‘How was your day?’” articles. I can’t remember 30 questions; I’ll get overwhelmed and inevitably revert back to “How was your day?” I can remember four questions).

I decided to start asking Linnea the four questions I liked the best from the various versions I’ve read:

  • What was your favourite part of your day?
  • How were you brave today?
  • How were you kind today?
  • What could you have done better today? (I liked this better than the “How did you fail today?” version in the post I linked to above).

Now, she’s three. So the answers I get tend to be a bit random and often don’t make much sense. But every once in a while, she throws a good one at me. And I like that we’re starting it now so she grows up thinking about these sorts of things, particularly the “kind” one because, let’s face it, kids can be pretty awful. And eventually, these conversations can be really meaningful.

I was telling my dad about it the other day and he reacted a bit to the “brave” one. His concern was that it’d encourage daredevil behaviour. I pointed out that “brave” doesn’t have to be physical – which he agreed to – but, that said, in that moment, neither of us could come up with a good example of brave that wasn’t about doing something that scares you. I solved that problem today, even if I didn’t mean to.

Arne-Morten has been away on a work trip for a couple days, which means I’m at home with both kiddos. I’ve also recently started school again, working on a Master’s degree online. It’s busy. And I normally work on my school stuff while Arik naps. Linnea, however, doesn’t nap anymore and she’s used to a lot of activity during her day while at preschool. These past two days, I’ve generally turned “The Magic School Bus” on for her while Arik napped so I could do at least a bit of school work. Today was no different, but I didn’t manage to get nearly enough done and was feeling stressed about it. I also, nutter that I am, decided today would be a good day to get started with some Christmas crafts (get ‘em outta the way early!) while both kids were awake (because, you know, crafting with a baby is so easy!)

I pulled out the paints and our tin full of popsicle sticks (yep, we save ‘em for just such a purpose, even though this will be the first time in three years we’ve actually made anything with them) and started setting up. Painting smock on, I asked Linnea which of the sparkly paints she wanted to start with. Colour selected, she started painting one of the sticks. Well, crap. The damn paint (which was NOT cheap cuz this is Norway) is basically translucent. It’s not doing much on the popsicle stick. I grumbled a bit and then handed Linnea some paper to paint on while I went about painting the popsicle sticks white first, so Linnea’s paint would actually show up. Of course, we had to wait for the white to dry and randomly running your brush across a blank page is only interesting for so long for anyone who isn’t a professional artist, let alone a pre-schooler. She was getting bored. I had a Eureka moment then: grabbing some of the paper, I set about drawing some shapes and outlines that Linnea could fill in with paint. She loved it!

That lasted until it was time to get Arik down for a nap again, at which point, Linnea wanted to watch some more “Magic School Bus.” No problem, I’ll get some school work done.

Once more, I didn’t get enough done. I was still working on an assignment and the time to get Arik up was fast approaching. Linnea’s episode of “The Magic School Bus” had ended and, rather than just putting another one on for her, I said it was time to turn it off. But then I had a bored toddler on my hands as I was trying to finish up that laaaaaast liiiiittle bit of work. Bad combo. She’s jumping about, insisting I look at her, and asking random questions. I snapped at her several times to “just wait,” but again, she’s three. Finally, I really snapped at her. She looked at me, hurt. I sighed and asked if maybe she would like to paint again? “Oh yes!” Good, that’ll buy me a bit of time. I got her set up once more and went to complete my assignment reminding her not to bother me for a little while. (Yes, I said it like that. Insert hindsight cringe here). Assignment finally out of the way, it was time to get the baby up (his calls across the monitor were starting to sound distinctly less patient…) Of course, Linnea chose that moment to tell me she was out of shapes to paint. {sigh}

I started drawing more shapes for her. She insisted she wanted a heart – just one heart, no little hearts inside it. I asked if she wanted several, single hearts, of varying sizes. She was excited about that, so I drew a bunch of hearts. I should have stopped there.

Thinking it would keep her busy, I also drew several other shapes for her to paint. As I was bringing the paper over to her, she noticed that. “I didn’t want a sun,” she whinged. “Then don’t pain that one,” I responded, as calmly as I could. “Mamma, you drew a heart with another heart in it!!!” She looked disgusted. “Yes, but I drew a bunch of single hearts, too. Linnea, you don’t have to paint the ones you don’t want to paint. If you only want to paint the hearts, just paint the hearts.” At this point, the baby is starting to holler over the monitor. My daughter’s lower lip protruded to extreme lengths. “I didn’t want that one, Mamma.” I stifled a scream. “Linnea, for pete’s sake! Just paint the ones you want to. Leave the rest alone, I really don’t care!” (More baby screaming). “I have to deal with your little brother now. You sit here and paint. Or don’t. Whatever.” And with that, I stomped downstairs to deal with the baby who, by this point, was in hysterics.

I had invited my brother over for dinner and asked him to help me with the munchkins. While I was nursing Arik, I heard him come in and exclaim over Linnea’s painting. I also heard his response to her complaining about the heart within a heart. He said it was no problem, they could just paint the whole thing black, so you couldn’t even see the little heart inside. Problem solved.

When I came upstairs with the baby a little while later, Linnea was still staring sullenly at the paper while her Uncle was filling in the heart, trying to get her to get involved. It was the only thing on the page that had any paint on it. “Linnea,” I asked gently, “didn’t you paint while I was downstairs?” She shook her head, her little lip quivering. “It’s ok!,” Uncle said cheerfully, not knowing the back story. I asked him to take the baby. When he did, I stood looking at my girl for a moment. She wouldn’t look at me. “Baby,” I started, once again gently, “are you ok?” She waited a moment before nodding her head yes. She clearly wasn’t. “Are you sad that Mamma was irritated?” She sat so still, trying desperately to control those big emotions, but it was too much. Those beautiful little eyes filled up with tears and my heart broke. She’s three and I spent the whole day, casually snapping at her. It was all I could do not to cry myself.

Of course, I comforted her. And I explained as best I could that I’m just very tired these days and so I’m not as patient as I should be. I told her that I’m not frustrated with her, I just get frustrated in general and sometimes, that leads to me saying things in a mean way when I don’t intend to. I assured her that I’m proud of her, that I love her and told her how sorry I was for making her sad. After some serious snuggles, all was well again. And I cut the section of paper with the single hearts away from the rest of the drawings, so she could paint just the hearts. Problem well solved. (And she went on to paint the other things, too).

Linnea had a fun evening with her Uncle and he was the one who eventually got her into bed. I was doing the dishes as he came back upstairs, chatted with me a bit and then headed home. Normally, I would go into Linnea’s room after Arik was in bed and ask her those four questions. I had been thinking to skip it tonight since it was already way past her bedtime and she ended her day on a high note with Uncle. But then it occurred to me: this was a golden moment.

I went into her room and asked if she wanted to talk. She did. I asked her if it would be ok if I told her about my day. She was surprised, but eager. I then asked her if I could start with the “What could I do better” question. Again, she agreed. So I told her about losing my patience and how I wasn’t proud of that. I told her that I don’t mean to make her sad or to say things in a hurtful way and that I’m going to try very hard to be better about all of that. I said that I would definitely make mistakes, but that I would try to be better. We went through the other questions (“Favourite part of your day” – seeing her awesome painting. And “How were you kind?” – drawing the shapes for you to paint and putting on “Magic School Bus”… twice!”) And then we got to my favourite question; the one that’s often so hard to answer. “How were you brave today?”

I told her that I was brave by admitting my mistakes.

It’s not easy to admit when you’re wrong (at least, I don’t find it easy) and, sadly, it’s often even harder to admit to our children when we mess up. They look up to us. They idolize us (at least at the age of three) and, well, we’re “the boss.” But if I want my kid to admit when she’s wrong – if I expect my daughter to say she’s sorry – I damn well better be able to do it myself.

So I did.

One thought on “How were you brave?

  1. On our drive home today my friend & I were talking about how hard it is to parent well: boundaries, consistency, realistic consequences, being loving & firm, building their confidence and at the same time curbing the dare-devil. The list goes on & on … and the energy gets drained … But we forgot about being brave!
    Yes, admitting to your child that you messed up takes courage, and to talk it through takes patience, and to come up with a better plan/solutions is smart … and all of it together makes you a better parent and makes your child a better citizen of this world.
    Love you – you are a wonderful mom!

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