It’s coming to me… all this mothering and sleepless nights, nursing and holding and cuddling, and shushing, and wishing they’d just nap, but wishing they wouldn’t grow up…
I think I knew it would happen, but now I’m sure: I’m learning more from my children than the whole of life ever taught me.
Last night, while trying on a new commitment to take better care of myself (which fits about as good as a too-tight blazer), I decided to paint my fingers and toes an interesting new color called Mint Candy Apple.
If that sounds about like Milk of Magnesium … you’re about right. I heard this was the hot shade for springtime. I hope so.
With one foot awkwardly hooked on the bathroom sink, I shakingly applied polish to my toes. There’s a reason I never paint my own nails, I recalled.
Halfway through one foot I heard the pad-pad-padding of our toddler out of bed. His nightly routine to go to the bathroom just ten minutes after putting him down. I should have known.
“Mommy, I hafta go paaaah-teeey.”
“Okay, go ahead.” I turned back to my toes while he sat down on the potty chair.
“What are you doing, Mommy?” he asked.
“Painting my toes to look pretty.”
“Oh.” Then, “Are you giving me privacy? You can give me privacy.”
“Yes, I’m giving you privacy.” One of many concepts we’re working on these days.
“You can come in here, just don’t look and give me privacy. Okay?” he repeats, matter-of-factly. Like, Mom, I’ve got this privacy thing down, okay?
“Okay.” I put down one foot, hike up the other and go back to work, spreading light blue polish on the other toenails.
Suddenly, a finger comes into view below me and presses on my big toe. “Is it blue?” he asks.
I look down and see a big smudge-print. Sigh. There’s another reason I never paint my nails, I thought.
And I couldn’t keep my sigh from becoming audible.
“Yes, honey, it’s blue. But now, it’s smudged. It’s like paint, it’s wet and has to dry, and…” I stopped, feeling the pointlessness of explaining nail polish to a three-year-old boy. (Which also demonstrates how often I have painted my nails in the past three years!). “Now I have to repaint that one,” I muttered to myself and got the nail polish remover out.
As I began erasing the smudge with remover, I felt a small body close. And heard an even smaller, “I’m sorry, Mommy, for touching your paint.”
My heart and hand stopped.
I put down the nail polish. Knelt down face to face with him, a small boy, a big moment.
I decided then that, sure, nine o’clock at night IS the right time to explain wet nail polish to a three-year-old boy. Because what could be more strange than getting up at night to use the potty and seeing your mother, arms akimbo, leg half in the sink, wielding a teeny tiny paintbrush over her toes? What, after all?
And what could be more important than a little boy for the first time, on his own… saying sorry… understanding someone else’s feelings (albeit I felt rather silly that it happened to be feelings about smudged nail polish!). (And… it’s just a pic of me and my nails because he’d already gone back to bed by the time I got the camera out!).
I didn’t think he even knew the situation might warrant an apology to be honest because he never is sorry in those BIG moments after he’s just pounded on his baby brother!
So I sat down on the bathroom floor and told him all about how Mommy paints her nails like he paints on paper, only Mommy’s nails take much longer to dry. And how I was sorry that I got frustrated, and how kind it was that he’d apologized.
I’ll admit my heart has been concerned with raising children who care, children who empathize… watching a toddler’s egocentric world day by day, it’s easy to wonder how and when empathy will develop. We generally don’t “force” him to say “I’m sorry,” although we model it, and talk about how we should respond when we’ve hurt someone. Because it’s not about saying I’m sorry, especially if the words are meaningless, but about understanding how his actions affected someone, and being moved to make amends. So, really he’s never said “I’m sorry” before without a prompt.
The next day, first thing, he wanted to see my toes. And he asked me if they were dry.
And every time I look at my big toe, I hear those two soft, small words … words right from his heart and into mine. I’m hoping this is the start of big things for him. Big heart-felt, mommy-melting things.
Do you remember the first time your child demonstrated empathy?