(Note: I wrote this a couple of months ago — just scribbled it down — and thought I might as well post it. I don’t know where this blog is going but I want to explore that with you yet soon. I’m so tired, you guys. I haven’t slept in four years. Anyways, on to the story…)
I knew something was off as soon as she walked out of the bathroom, all nervous and quiet. I was chopping vegetables at the kitchen counter for supper.
“What’s up, honey?” I asked. She hung back. I put down my knife and started to walk towards her when I noticed some red streaks on her cheek.
I knew immediately what had happened.
She’d been pestering me to put lipstick on her all afternoon. Each time I’d said, “No, not today, honey. That’s only for when we go somewhere fancy.” (Really, as a four-year-old there’s probably never a right time to wear lipstick; but I hadn’t been able to resist dabbing a bit of red on her lips the night we’d gone to a banquet a few months earlier. She’d been so eager to join in when she saw me putting it on.)
I decided right then that I wouldn’t get upset.*
I knelt down to take a closer look.
“Hmm . . . did you do something with my lipstick?” I asked.
“No!” she said in a panic.
“Hmm . . .” I said again (which is how I buy time when I don’t know what to say). “I think I’m going to check.”
“No!” she said again. She ran toward the bathroom. “No, don’t check!”
She ran in front of me and barricaded the doorway with her arms. “Don’t go in there!”
“Honey, I’m going to check. I’m going to go in there.” I held her arm as I stepped past her.
“No!” she yelled again from behind me.
Everything looked tidy and normal in the bathroom. I was glad of that. I opened my makeup drawer. My lipstick was there, but there was a bit of red smeared on the outside of the tube.
“Hmm . . .” I said as I opened it and twisted. Out twisted a mangled red stump. I looked inside the lid, which was caked in red gunk.
“Oh, no, look at my lipstick,” I said softly.
And she threw her head back and let out a long, loud cry.
I stood there a moment, thinking while she wept.
“Oh, honey,” I finally said, turning around. She cried louder and louder.
I tried to think what to say. I was disappointed that my all-natural, handmade lipstick from the Farmer’s Market in a different city — the only lipstick I’d owned since a teenager — had been destroyed. I’d only worn it twice. But I wasn’t really as upset about it as she was.
I knelt down. “How do you think Mommy feels about her lipstick being ruined?” I asked.
“She feels bad,” I told her.
I pulled her in towards me for a hug and she didn’t resist. She just cried into my shoulder. Then I had an idea.
“You know what we can do? Some people put lipstick on with a brush. I can buy a lipstick brush and we can still use it.” I was satisfied with that.
She continued to cry but it softened after that. I gave her another squeeze and then returned to the kitchen, because honestly, I had to get back to supper. I didn’t have time to comfort her for ruining my lipstick. I don’t remember what happened after that but she must have gotten over it.
She hasn’t asked for lipstick since.
I thought it was a very interesting event as I reflected on it later.
Why did she try to hide it? Because she knew she was guilty without anyone telling her.
Why did she cry? Because she knew she had done something wrong.
The fact that she’d come to these conclusions and had an emotional response to them intrigued me.
She knew she wouldn’t get punished — she’d never been punished for anything before , she had no basis for ever getting that idea — so it wasn’t that. (We don’t do punishments or rewards.)
My guess is that she was unhappy knowing that I was going to be unhappy. And that strikes me as a good thing.
Will she do something like that again? I don’t know. I can’t tell the future. But even if I’d punished her, I still can’t say whether or not she’d still do it again. Preschoolers and toddlers are notoriously forgetful. But if she did repeat the crime after having been punished, she might go to greater lengths to hide it from me in the future. And I want her to feel safe coming to me and being honest no matter what she’s done, and not have to worry that I will exact further punishments on her.
What good would punishment have done? What could it have added to the experience? From my understanding, all it would do would be to put a rift in our relationship.
What Did She Learn?
Of course I can’t say for sure what she took away from the experience. But here are the messages I hope she got:
- Being careless with other people’s things and breaking them makes them unhappy, which makes me feel bad. However:
- Material things are just things.
- I make mistakes but that doesn’t make my mom love me any less.
* I am rarely able to pull this off. I’m usually so sleep-deprived I yell at the first provocation. I have shouted “YOU ARE DRIVING ME CRAZY!!” more times than I’d like to admit.