December 12, 2013
When I think of Christmas, I think of second chances. The longer I live, the more I firmly believe in and rely on second chances. I think once you become a parent you don’t have a choice but to believe in giving second chances..and 3rd chances and 4th chances;) This story isn’t really a Christmas story, but it has a Christmas ending to it and it’s all about second chances.
When I was a kid. We had a dog named Benji. I grew up in rural idaho and we typically had a foot or two of snow on the ground each winter. Benji was an outside dog and he had a nice dog run about 50 feet from our front door. None of us kids liked feeding the dog in the winter or to be truthful, in the summer either (we still have a lot of collective guilt over this, but more on that another time).
One winter evening during my early teenage years we had finished dinner and it was time for me to go to scouts. I was then informed that it was my turn to feed the dog. Probably being late already, I was not happy. In reality, the whole thing would only require a few minutes of work and a slight amount of discomfort. But, being angry that I was being reminded to do it and especially to do it right now, I stomped on the front door with the dog food in one hand and pitcher of water in the other.
A bad decision
I quickly gave the dog his food and water and then made a bad decision. Without any trace of fore-thought or common sense, I launched the Tupperware water pitcher toward the house in a glorious and dramatic show of defiance. Or so I thought…
I then watched with a mix of anger, disbelief and horror as the pitcher crashed into a bedroom window and shattered the outer pane.
I then slowly walked back into the house not knowing whether to show how sheepish I felt or to still be angry. My mother was upset (of course, as she should have been) and my sheepishness quickly evaporated. We argued a little and then I stomped out again to get my bike and ride to scouts.
A great decision
Its the next part of the story that sticks most with me. Before I could wheel away my Mom came out and talked to me in a calm voice about what had happened and calmed me down and basically forgave me. Now, I have three kids of my own and to be honest I don’t know how she calmed down so quickly or had the ability to tell me it was OK after just a few minutes. But she did. Though I don’t remember exactly what she said I will never forget what she did. She let me know it was OK. Things would work out. She loved me and always would. Her message wasn’t really about breaking a window in anger, it was about life. She was telling me that its OK to mess up and that I could get a second chance or really as many chances as it would take for me to become what she knew I could become. It was about me being accepted and loved for who I was, angry-window-breaking flaws and all. It was about me being given a second chance to be better next time.
I don’t really remember what my consequences were for the broken window. I was probably grounded and had to pay for the window to be replaced (or least I was threatened to have to pay for it). Isn’t it interesting that I remember what my mom did and not what my consequences were? I’m sure there are more than a few parenting lessons in that.
No this post isn’t really about science or about education, but it is about teaching. And whether you’re teaching in a classroom or in the family room, I believe that kids deserve second chances. Sure we need to teach the importance of being responsible and meeting deadlines and working to achieve something, but at the same time kids/students need some leeway to mess up. And they need to be able to mess up safely. The culture and systems of accountability we set up in our homes and classrooms will teach these adults-in-embryo a lot about life and choices. But hopefully we as teachers in these young people’s lives will teach them the most by how we respond when they do make bad decisions.
The Christmas Part
OK, now for the Christmas part. This time of year most of the world seems to pause momentarily at Christmas time as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. No matter what your religious beliefs are, history records that Jesus was a real person who repeatedly taught about second chances. From my reading of his life, He seemed to be constantly finding ways to let others know that there was hope–that there was a way to mess up and still have things turn out OK–that there was a way to get a second chance. My belief is that He lived and died to provide us all a with that reset button in our lives. And luckily we can push it over and over.
Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas in the Christian tradition, it seems it’s worth pausing for a moment to think about second chances. I think that giving other’s a second chance is as much a human thing as it’s a religious thing. We all mess up. We all sometimes respond in ways less than our best. At times, we all need others to to forgive us and we all need to forgive others.
It’s just so ironic that life has handed me a plate of justice and I end up with a kid or two that’s just like me. I can just hear my parents snickering about that one (and isn’t that what they hoped would happen to me someday!). So my advice to myself (and I guess to you), is that when my kid breaks a window (or something equally infuriating), take a deep breath. Pause for a moment. Collect yourself and remember that moment years ago when you were patiently and lovingly given another chance.