The other day as we reviewed our conversational Spanish skills, Carter got confused. His brain went blank, as is quite common when you're too distracted, sticking your fingers in your dog's ears and someone comes up to you and asks you a question like, "Quien es to abuela?"
He knew the answer to the question. He's answered it a million times before. He was just taken off guard and put on the spot and his whole brain seized and wouldn't allow him to access any data.
He blurted out the only thing that could come to his mind. "Rojo."
The girls giggled.
He frowned and stomped his foot when his sister chimed in with the answer. "Her name is Ellie, not RED!" she said exasperated. "Grandma's name is ELLIE!"
This sent his anger from simmering to boiling and tears started to well in his eyes.
"It's no big deal Carter," I said gently. "You know the answer, just try and pay attention."
He grumbled some more, mumbling something about how could have made such a silly mistake. This was the perfect opportunity to teach about mistakes and how they are building blocks to success.
"Learn to love mistakes, Bubba. They will be with you until the very end. We all make mistakes every single day and we've got to get used to the fact that they are learning tools. Every time we make a mistake we get better if we try and learn from them."
I went on to share a slew of silly mistakes I'd made in the last week which had the whole table in hysterics; the time I put the jelly in the pantry and the peanut butter in the fridge and the jelly grew mold, the time I forgot that Daddy was in the middle of an upgrade and I unplugged the ipad which caused the thing to die, the time I just couldn't seem to remember my Italian words and every one of my answers was met with a mean buzzing sound.
"I just had to accept those mistakes and move on," I said. "What else could I do? I guess I could have thrown a fit." I slumped in my office chair and rolled to the floor where I proceeded to pound the hard wood beneath me and pull on my hair.
They laughed until they cried and they understood that it's silly to take ourselves too seriously.
Carter was smiling, the embers within him dying down, the smoke clearing. That is until Laila chimed in about how he "always" makes mean faces at her when he's angry and how he needs to learn how not to hurt her feelings.
He immediately crossed his arms and began to stew. I understood it perfectly. We all have that feeling when someone criticizes us. Most of us hide our feelings but kids- they animate their feelings.
"It's not MY fault you're in a bad mood. I didn't do anything to you. You..."
I stopped her there.
"Laila. You know that your brother is having a bad day. Why are you adding fuel to the fire? What happens if you have a camp fire and you add lighter fluid to it?"
"Yes it does."
"And what happens if you add oil to a stove fire?"
"It gets bigger."
"Exactly. It's the same thing when we add negative words to a conversation when someone is already worked up. You make things worse. You cause thing to explode and get out of control. Feelings will burn like that fire and it becomes a dangerous situation and people can get hurt."
Everyone sat quietly as I continued to explain.
"Who do you think the hero is? A person who starts a fire or the fireman who puts it out?"
"Yes! A fire starter causes problems. A fire fighter is a hero. You can be a hero too, when you decide to not add to a bad situation. In fact, you can come in and be a fire fighter and add good things. You could have said something like, 'I make mistakes too Carter, don't worry about it.'"
She agreed and we went on with our Spanish lesson.
But later that day, as almost always happens when I teach my kids a lesson, I realized that I needed to learn that lesson as well. There are so many times that I've walked around with my stone and flint, starting fires in places that were at time, dry and vulnerable. . Whether I was picking on my husband on a day when I knew he was already tired or I was contributing to a negative conversation. I was just making things worse. I do this with my kids too. When they are worked up about something and arguing, I can easily ramp things up by raising my voice or arguing back. I'm a fire starter too.
When a fire burns out of control inside of ourselves, it so easily spews around us, destroying relationships and burning bridges. Anger is like a fire, it grows and spreads at lightning speeds and can become so big and out of control that it becomes hard to contain. It can burn until it destroys everything in it's path. Anger needs the quenching waters of love.
And that's the lesson for both myself and my daughter. To remember to stop starting fires or adding fuel to the flames and to start loving more heroically.