Lily Pick UpIf you’re a mother or father, you’ve seen it. You’ve lived it. If you’re an aunt or uncle, you’ve seen it, and you’ve laughed at it. If you are an innocent bystander when it happens, you’ve witnessed it, and you’ve probably Facebooked about the poor mother or father having to deal with it. With children, it’s inevitable. And if you’re anything like me, when you hear that fated sound of your child’s drink, snack, or meal, splash or tap against the ground as it all comes falling down, you close your eyes, and you hope it’s not as bad as it sounded. Am I close?

I was in the post office a few weeks ago with my daughter. We were mailing a package off to daddy, and she was sitting on the counter while the clerk processed the package, and made small talk with me and her. She found the “Need a penny” cup, and proceeded to tip it over. The sound, no doubt, is one of her favorites. She learned a few months ago about putting her change in her Cinderella bank, and now every time she sees change, she runs with it in her hand, straight to her room to drop it in Cinderella. So it was no surprise that her eyes lit up at the sound and the sight of all those beautiful, shiny pennies.

Still, she looked to me as soon as they spilled out, and I smiled at her and said cheerfully, “Uh, oh! Let’s put them back, okay?”Seeing my smiling face and calm reaction, she gave me her best squinchy faced smile, and turned to put the pennies back. The gentleman behind the counter said, “Oh, that’s okay, I’ll get them later,” to which I replied kindly, “Oh, no, it’s okay. We always pick up our messes. Don’t we, sweetie?” My daughter continued to pick up the pennies one at a time, with a smile on her face, and occasionally trying to sneak one in my bag.

There was nothing wrong with this situation. I didn’t overreact, I didn’t yell, I didn’t get huffy, or any of the other possible ways that I could have reacted in that situation. Still, I felt glaring eyes on me, and I couldn’t shake that feeling. As I looked up from the counter to my daughter’s smiling face, I saw her. Another mother, waiting at the pick up window, with her child sitting on the counter, just like mine, and the most evil “How could you?” look on her face. I smiled and said ‘hi’ and went back to my business. Lily eventually finished picking up all the pennies, which meant we clapped, because she did a good thing. Never did I make her feel as if I was angry at her, and I didn’t force her to pick up the pennies. She actually did it on her own free will as soon as I said ‘uh, oh.’

As I carried on throughout my day, I couldn’t help but to wonder why I earned the evil glare from this other parent. But as I went on throughout my day, it became more and more clear. I didn’t pick up the pennies FOR my daughter. I actually made her pick up her own mess. How could I??? What was I thinking?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about making your child do the dishes or make breakfast at two. But keep in mind that my daughter isn’t even two, she’s only 21 months, and was only 20 months old at the time of the post office incident. Isn’t that the time that we should be teaching our children key things like picking up after themselves?

It wasn’t always like that day. The first few times, I was like most, I simply said my ‘uh, oh’ and picked them all up for her, as she either sat and watched, or ran away to do something else. After a few times, I realized I was doing my child no good by doing the cleaning up without her assistance. All I was teaching her was that she could make a mess anytime she wanted to, and I would always be there to pick up her mess. As we all know, that’s just not the case in the world. And me letting her think so was going to lead to some tough times down the road. Whether it is her as an older child not wanting to clean her room, or her as an adult thinking the world should always be one step behind her to pick up after her. Neither are true, and it is my job to make sure she understands this.

After those first few times, I sat down with her in my lap the next time she spilled something. It’s usually her goldfish. So we sat there. I put her hand on the goldfish, and said nicely, “Okay, pick them up. Now put them in the bowl.” I had to put her hand on top of the goldfish, and hover them over the bowl the first couple of times, but you know what? She understood. She got the hang of it. And we quickly got to the point where when she would spill something, no matter if I was right there or not, if she heard me say, “Uh, oh!” she immediately went to work picking up whatever was spilled.

You know what happens now? It’s the craziest thing! When she sees her mess of blocks, and the container sitting next to the pile of blocks, she turns the container right side up, and starts putting her blocks inside. Then she puts the top on, and she puts the bucket back on the shelf. And she does that with everything! Her crayons, blocks, Legos, books, and, of course, her beloved goldfish.

Sometimes I help, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I let her be a big girl and do it all by herself. And you know what comes after that? The biggest smile in the world from my little girl for having done something all by herself. How fantastic is that?

I am all for helping children. I understand that they can’t do everything on their own right away, and they shouldn’t be forced to, either. At the same time, I want to raise my daughter to understand what it’s like to be an individual, and to be able to do things on her own. Because, as sad as it is, I won’t always be here to hold her hand and pick up the goldfish.