“Would you like the dessert menu?” our eight-year-old server asked. “Mmmm, yes please.”
It was our fifteenth anniversary, and the kids put together a dinner date on the porch for us, complete with candle, fancy dishes, and yes, a dessert menu. My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed the quiet (five kids over here!) and chance to just talk about things we were learning and doing.
During a lull in the conversation, my stream of thought wandered to our new table sitting in our kitchen, and a quote came to mind that I had read at some point in life: “If you want something to last forever, you treat it differently.”
The solid, dark wood table was a recent purchase and one of the few pieces of nice furniture we had bought during our married life. Protecting the table from heat, banging doors, and sharp pencils, I had treated it differently from the card tables and hand-me-downs we had used in the past. I’m hoping this one lasts.
Being a writer, I filed the random thought away for later, not sure what the rest of the lesson was. Then my mind was back to dessert and our conversation.
After licking our bowls clean of vanilla ice cream with caramel topping and Sour Patch Kids (did I mention our kids are awesome?!) and a dance on the deck, my husband and I headed back in the house.
Two steps inside the door we saw the marks: scores of tiny dents in our brand new dining table. My jaw literally dropped as my mind went back to the thought I had just had about this very table. It didn’t take long to figure out that the baby’s high chair had been pushed up to the tableside, despite our repeated instructions not to do so. The end of a metal spoon banging into the wood had left its permanent mark.
Our oldest recognized the mistake at the same time we did.
I looked in her eyes, full of regret, and in that moment it hit me. There was the rest of the lesson.
“If you want something to last forever, you treat it differently.”
It wasn’t ever about the table. My daughter, our relationship, that’s something I really want to last forever, much more than the finish or form of a brand new piece of furniture. And that thought squelched any other reaction but love.
“It’s just a table,” I said. I hugged my daughter, and we set to cleaning up the rest of the dinner mess.
We all know we love our children. We’d do anything for them: give birth, give up a career, or even give our lives if it came down to it. But sometimes in the busy, messy moments of parenting, we forget.
We momentarily forget that what we care about most can’t be saved in a bank or bought in a store. It can’t be checked off a list or liked on social media. And sometimes in our forgetfulness, we react disproportionate to the crime. We might freak out over a mistake or yell about a mess. We might roll our eyes, express disgust, or otherwise belittle those we love. I know I have done all that more often than I’d like to admit. Mamahood is hard!
But in our hearts, we really want to build a relationship that lasts. We want our kids to come to us with their mistakes and challenges, the hardships life will surely throw at them. We want our kids to know we will be there for them for the serious and silly, the difficult and fun. We hope our kids know and feel, “I am on your team.”
So when we do forget, we reset and try to do a little better. This lasting parent-child relationship is built slowly, consistently, little by little. This kind of relationship comes one calm reaction, one hug, one apology at a time. And just focusing on one little thing at a time is something we can do.
Our anniversary night, I was grateful for the inspiration that came in the form of a random thought while eating dinner and the eternal application that hit in the moment. The reminder made it easy for me to keep perspective, and I hope that when the next opportunity arises to show it, I remember again what I really want to last. Because how we react when our children make mistakes says a lot about the future relationship we will have with them.
Later that night, our oldest apologized again. I assured her that I was not upset. I told her that now, every time we see those dents, we’ll remember our fifteenth anniversary and how our kids put together a thoughtful, special night.
And to myself I thought, “And every time I see those dents, I will remember that if you want something to last forever, you treat it differently.”