Pop quiz, hotshot. Your kid forgets his favorite stuffed animal at home. Leave it there and the kid loses it in front of everyone. Go back to get it and brand yourself a total pushover. What do you do? What do you do?
We had one of “those” mornings last Thursday.
I woke up late, so our son JR woke up late,1 leaving us both to start the day in the worst possible way: sleepy and rushed. All told, I had about 20 minutes to get my teeth brushed and my clothes on while simultaneously monitoring JR’s attempts to get himself washed, dressed, and fed before we had to leave for school.2
On most school days, JR and I go through a verbal checklist before getting in the car:
- Lunch packed? Check.
- Book bag on? Check.
- Bunn packed up? Check.
While I help him with the first two,3 that last one is his responsibility. Each morning he’s supposed to take Bunn and tuck this most beloved “cuddle friend” into his book bag before sitting down to breakfast. And he does it. He loves being able to take Bunn to school,4 and he knows it’s his job–so much so that he’s prone to dish out a SPECTACULAR eye roll when I get to this part of our checklist. I mean, come on! It’s Bunn! Who would ever forget Bunn?
Turns out, JR would. And, of course, he did so on the one morning (out of the almost two months he’s been in school) that I forgot to ask him, what with all my flouncing around the house like a madwoman as I tried to get us out the door.
We didn’t realize Bunn was stilled buried under layers of blankets in JR’s bed back at home until we were about 50 paces away from the school (and a good 15 minutes away from our house).
“JR. You got Bunn, right?” I asked, stopping in my tracks.
He eyes widened. “I don’t know, Mama…” he whimpered back.
I frantically unzipped the book bag to check.
Nope. No Bunn. The book bag was woefully Bunn-less.
JR dropped his shoulders and looked to the sky, utterly defeated. Then the tears started. Begging soon followed.
“Please, Mama? Can you go back and get him?”
I bit my lip as I peered down at him.
“Mama…please?…” His voice was getting wobblier by the second.
As we stood there on the sidewalk, the morning drop-off foot traffic whizzing by, it occurred to me that this moment was possibly bigger than just a forgotten stuffed animal.
I’ll be honest, my initial impulse was to start sorting out in my head how to drop JR off, head into work for a bit, drive alllll the way home to grab Bunn and drop him off at school for rest time, then go back to work only to leave an hour or so later to collect JR for the day.
First of all what kind of precedent does that set? Even though I am JR’s primary caregiver and the ins and outs of managing his life largely fall to me, I’m also an adult with a job that helps put food on our table and a roof over our heads. My time is just as valuable as his, just as valuable as his father’s; he needs to respect and understand that.
Secondly, as he gets older, our expectations for him need to change. Had this mix-up occurred a couple years ago when he was a toddler struggling to nap at daycare, I would’ve gone back for Bunn, no question. But that’s no longer the case. He’s an almost-five-year-old–and a very smart and capable one at that. How will he ever learn to take responsibility for his things (for himself) if I constantly hover over him and/or swoop in and save the day at every little mistake?
I zipped his book bag shut and slipped it gently back onto his shoulders.
“You’ll just have to wait to see Bunn when you get home,” I sighed…and braced myself for what I thought would be the inevitable fall out.
But, to JR’s credit, there wasn’t one–at least not beyond a few more tears and some extra dramatic shuffling down the hallway to his classroom.
We parted ways at the door, and I filled his teacher in on that morning’s snafu. She smiled and shrugged.
“Welp! Just make sure to check that Bunn’s in there tomorrow, OK?” she said, ushering him into the room and redirecting his attention in that way only pre-kindergarten teachers can.
I walked back to the car with a little bit of heaviness in my heart but a lot more resolve. I mean, I felt for the kid, but this was the way things had to go, mother’s guilt be damned.
— ∮∮∮ —
When I picked JR up later that day, he trotted right over to me and announced that his teacher let him borrow a cuddle friend during rest time–“Cwifford the Big Red Dog, acshully.” Then, in basically the same breath, he asked to hurry home because Bunn was sad and needed to see him.
I couldn’t get the front door open fast enough; JR sprinted up the stairs and into his room.5 Now normally JR’s post-school routine involves a lot of stomping and and pew-pew-pewing–your typical rowdiness. But after that initial burst of noise as he flung open his bedroom door, I didn’t hear a peep.
I tiptoed up the the stairs and peeked into his room. I found him curled up on his bed, gently rubbing Bunn’s left ear.
“I’m sorry I forgot you,” he whispered around the thumb jammed in his mouth. “I won’t do that anymore, OK?”
Responsibility taken? Check.
Lesson learned? Check.
His mother’s heart melted? Check…double check…triple check.
— ∮∮∮ —
- Most mornings he’s up before me, yammering away in his room, but this particular morning followed a shitastic night of multiple wake-ups due to bad dreams and 1,000 pee trips to the bathroom. So we were both a little off. ↩
- Yes, I have a husband who is also home during much of this, but by the time JR and I wake up, this hard-working man has been up for two (or more) hours plugging away at his to-do list and is already almost out the door to head into the office. ↩
- Have you ever watched a pre-kindergartener try to put a book bag on by himself? It’s adorably clumsy but also an incredibly slow process that often requires multiple attempts. I don’t have time for that even when I actually do have time for that. ↩
- The question as to whether loveys and the like would be allowed in his pre-K class caused JR much anxiety before school started. He’s a pretty independent guy, but he just needs something to snuggle during rest time to recharge his little battery. ↩
- An rare event in itself because JR is the dawdliest of the dawdlers. ↩