Five or six nights a week, I’m on my own with the kids because my husband works in the evenings. On these nights, there is a lot of energy expended by everyone around bedtime. Sometimes these are the ups and downs of the merry-go-round, and sometimes the more turbulent rides. Whichever it is, there’s a range of activity and exuberance that I’ve grown accustomed to.
It’s always interesting to me how some maternal instinct knows when something has fallen outside normalized mayhem, but that’s what happened the other night when I heard a yell from the bathroom. My four year old was brushing his teeth there alone, so I was surprised by the scream, and yet I knew it was full of meaning. I called my boy to me, and he came, red-faced, tears already flowing to his chin. He was in such agony that I couldn’t understand all that he was saying, but I did hear “I broke the sink.”
I left the two other boys in the bedroom and went to the bathroom. For your edification, this is one way a sink may be broken:
The ensuing conversation with my son went something like this:
Me: You broke the sink?
Me: How did you break the sink?
Son: [inaudible screams of explanation]
Me: [seeing on the intact side of the sink a stainless steel cup used to rinse after toothbrushing] Did you bang the sink with the cup?
Son: Yeah! I did!
Me: Why did you do that?
Son: [inaudible screams]
Me: You must have banged it hard for it to break the sink.
Son: Yeah! I did! I banged it really hard!
Me: Why did you do that?
Son: I thought it was metal!!
It was so bizarre to come upon the broken sink in the first place that I could not be particularly upset by it. And my son was genuinely stricken; this kept my heart soft from the beginning. But when he told me that he thought the sink was metal (and thus un-breakable in his mind), I realized just how hard it can be to be four.
I mustered up some mild disapprobation about the sink – I don’t want him to do more damage. But my heart wasn’t in it, and mostly I comforted him. And the moment that he was persuaded that all really was well, he brightened and, transforming on a dime, played in the bedroom as if nothing had happened.
I’m satisfied, and pretty sure he’s not going to break any more sinks. As for why he was banging in the first place? I don’t know: he’s curious, he’s exploring, he’s four. Maybe I identify overly readily with not understanding the consequences of our actions until it’s too late, but I’m not bothering him about it anymore.
I forgot to tell my husband about it when he came home from work. He went to the bathroom before coming to the bedroom, where he said, “I guess we need a new sink.” So I started to fill him in and was in the middle of recounting my conversation with our son when my husband silently walked out. He went to the darkened room where our sleeping boy lay in his lower bunk, and I knew that boy was getting some love from his dad.
And so it is that a little boy might get in more trouble for not putting on his socks than for smashing the bathroom sink. It’s confusing and probably contradictory, and it’s our lives.
Masterfully written. So, so, true. All of it. Parenting, consequences, & the times when mercy and compassion win the day of our muddled life. This post is in my top five of read posts, anywhere, ever!
Thank you so much, that’s such high praise! I did feel so good knowing that love and forgiveness was the trump card that night.
Aw this is so cute, I just found your blog and I love reading over your posts,