Thursday, July 9, 2015

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

Today we found ourselves in Jerome, Arizona, as part of our family vacation with my in-laws and my husband's brother and his family. It was here that I learned the hard lesson of what it means to be the parent I want to be.

My mother-in-law decided to stop in a little jewelry store to buy my daughter a ring. The souvenir rings they bought in Sedona were quite large on a four year-old's finger, and this shop had some child-sized rings. We tried on several before deciding on a turquoise and silver ring--total price of $21. It was slightly loose, but seemed to be a better choice than the other ring which fit almost too tightly. 

As we were walking out of the shop, I asked my daughter to say a big thank you to her grandmother. As I was about to add the next logical sentence--be sure not to lose this special present--my mother-in-law hugged my daughter and said, "Just so you know, if you lose this, I won't be angry. Accidents happen, and I don't want you to be afraid to tell me. This is just a little present." 

I stopped in my tracks--how did she know what I was about to say? Immediately the many things I have lost came back to me, particularly the memory of the first thing my parents were angry with me for losing--one of the 14K gold earrings that I was given when I was eight.

Of course I want my daughter to treat her possessions carefully. We don't replace things that get broken or lost when these things happen out of carelessness, and we often have to explain that things sometimes cannot be replaced (or at least not immediately). Yet, this was a reminder that she is only four years old, and this was my opportunity to remember that I can help her preemptively be forgiving of that fact. As my mother-in-law said, accidents can happen.

And ten minutes later, while sitting at a barbecue restaurant, we discovered the ring had slipped off her finger and was nowhere to be found. I was so frustrated. In my gut, I wanted to yell at my daughter, "How could you be so careless?" And in my mind, I remembered being an eight year old girl on the other side of this. Yet the battle between instinct and aspiration was almost insurmountable, and all over a $20 ring.

I asked my daughter to apologize to her grandma for accidentally losing this ring. Grandma said it was fine, and then the two of them walked over to the server to leave our phone number in case it turned up. In the course of the conversation, in which my daughter was in tears, the server gave her a Hello Kitty keychain. This Hello Kitty hung in the rearview mirror of her car which was totaled in a car accident back in May. This woman, a young mother of two, was ejected from her car and should have been killed, but she, her friend, and the Hello Kitty survived. It was a reminder to her of resilience, and she decided that my daughter needed it. 

As I think about this morning, I am grateful. I am grateful to my mother-in-law who said to me, "We can't sweat the small stuff," and gave my daughter permission to be a flightly four year old, which I am not able to do as often as possible. I am grateful to the server who shared her story, reminding us that life is bigger than things (something I am well-aware of as a rabbi, but am sometimes forgetful of as a parent in the heat of the moment). Raised in a family where we sweated things small and large and had a memory longer than elephants, as a parent I want to teach my daughter forgiveness of herself, a recognition that things happen and we cannot let them overshadow our sense of self. Yet, instinct and aspiration as parents are not always in sync.

I am eternally grateful to this woman who looked at my daughter and knew she and our family needed this story. Hello Kitty is going to have a special place for us--we promise not to lose it--and one day it will go to someone special. In the meantime, it is reminder to me that every day we have the opportunity to choose the parent we want to be, and we can never lose hope that one day we will succeed. 

-dedicated to my mother-in-law, Jenny, who finds more stories and connections than anyone I know

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