I bought my son a slingshot for his seventh birthday. Obviously, this was a huge mistake. He immediately started winging bouncy balls around the living room, then moved on to using his big sister as target practice. I had to confiscate the thing four times in the first six hours that he owned it. That child definitely cannot handle a slingshot.
As parents, we make a lot of mistakes. Constantly. Daily. Things that seem like a good idea at the time frequently reveal themselves to be utterly daft. We were listening to the radio in the car once and a sweet 80s love ballad came on. I asked the kids if they could figure out what the song was about – they could, and it was adorable. Now they ask me to explain the meaning of virtually every song we hear. It’s all well and good when Whitney Houston is declaring that she will always love you but have you ever tried to explain Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle” to an eight-year-old? It’s not pretty.
Who wants to listen to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star instead? Anybody? No?
Then there are the mistakes that you really ought to know better. Like the time I bought my kids cute umbrellas: a frog, a butterfly, and a ladybug. No, no, no. Rookie mistake. When you’re the mother of three highly competitive children who have perfected the art of the inane squabble, you always – always!! – buy identical gear. Three frog umbrellas offer far less opportunity for open warfare than three adorably distinctive umbrellas.
Occasionally there are decisions that seem like mistakes but turn out to be fabulous. Like biking to school. My kids have been begging to ride their bikes to school since the start of the year. Despite the fact that school is less than a mile away, I didn’t want to do it. The emotional cost of biking with kids is high. They are unpredictable and not entirely stable. My son drifts to the middle of the street constantly. My daughter breaks unexpectedly, causing near-collisions on a regular basis. The logistics of transporting not only children but also backpacks and lunchboxes by bicycle is daunting.
Despite these and many other concerns, I gave into the pleading and organized a ride to school last week. It was fantastic. I pulled my youngest on a tag-along carrier and trailed after the big kids, shouting safety reminders every few seconds and praying fervently with each breath. They listened admirably and whizzed happily down the streets. The looks on their faces as they braked proudly to a halt in front of the drop-off lane, basking in the admiring gazes of their peers, was worth the hit to my blood pressure. Denying them that joy would have been a mistake.
And here’s the thing about the slingshot. My son loves it. It was exactly what he wanted for his birthday (and it cost me less than $20). Ditto for the nerf crossbow he got for Christmas. I knew he was bound to misuse it. That it was destined to spend many sad hours out of reach on a shelf in my bedroom. He’s a seven-year-old boy and he’s still learning self-control. But he won’t magically learn it through osmosis and heartfelt lectures from his mother. He’ll learn it by making mistakes. Whether they’re made by kids or parents, mistakes aren’t the end of the world. They’re just part of the process.