Alpha strained at it. I knew she was trying, but I could also tell she was becoming aggravated and close to giving up.
I’ll cut away from that scene for a moment to say this: I believe as a parent you have to let your children take their efforts all the way to the wire… and sometimes… beyond. I think you have to watch them, let them, struggle with things great and small and they must see them through even at times to failure. And that we must resist the compulsion to do things for them; whether to relieve their frustration or because of our own urgency. “You’re taking too long…” we tell them trying to move them along faster because of our time agenda… they’re on our clock, and we’re waiting. So, we step in too soon.
But every time we do that, we teach our children something tremendously negative and limiting: we tell them it’s okay to give a token effort. And begin to embed that becoming easily frustrated and giving up, can lead to someone doing things for them. Or that stretching it out while complaining is how to handle a difficult challenge… that if someone needs it bad enough, they’ll help them do it.
I know sometimes we have to step in; we have to help our children. I don’t dispute that. But we have to be careful not to create and reinforce that expectation in them (or other family members and even close friends). We must choose when it’s an absolute necessity, and to not do so lightly because we have a low frustration threshold of our own. If possible, don’t give into it. Do the right thing for your child and maybe learn something beneficial.
I opened this with Alpha in a mighty struggle. She tends to get frustrated and angry too quickly at times. And I’m afraid she gets that quick temper… from me. But I practice what I preach… what I just told you. And like I said, struggles come in all sizes and their magnitude is not in proportion; their timing and context can make the most trivial things seem momentous. So it was, in this case.
Her challenge that morning was something she’d encountered before, and I had shown her how to deal with it… how to beat it and win… but that apparently hadn’t stuck with her. We had finished breakfast and I drank my coffee as she and Beta worked to complete their preparation for school. In less than 30 minutes, they’d have to catch the bus.
“Come on!” Alpha cried and with that announcement, I knew it had begun; the frustration. I looked at her as she complained to Beta,“I can’t get it!”
Something came to mind; an iconic image of a woman… she represented those who rallied, served their country and did what needed to be done in a time of war. I stood… came to the center of the kitchen and raised my arms and voice:
“There was once a small battle within a great war.”
They stopped, turned from what they were doing at the kitchen counter, and looked at me as I continued:
“She was young, this warrior, and alone. Those that were stronger, the men and women with her and those who led them, were all gone. She was the last one standing at their objective, the building they had sought and fought to get to. She stood, in her simple blue one-piece uniform with its Women’s Corps collar-badge, in the room that held what would end the war. Its release would save the world… and, though she didn’t know it at the time, herself too.
“She was the least experienced, the weakest and even wore a headscarf to hide her recruit camp–fresh-cut–short hair. But still, she had fought alongside the others. Pausing at the entrance, the bone-deep wounds in her legs were too much and weak from the loss of blood, she sank to the floor.
“The long room before her was littered with shards of glass and shredded twisted bits of metal that covered the floor. At the far end was a pedestal, as high as she was tall, and on it was what so many had died to reach… and to release. She would have to crawl.
“She cried as she dragged her legs behind her. When she reached the pedestal, with dozens of new lacerations that left a trail of scarlet smears along the path from the entrance of the building to where she lay, she was close to successfully completing the mission. She cried as she pulled herself up, knowing she did not have long. Her slashed legs would not hold her weight. She clawed up the dais, reaching one-handed to grab the canister that contained what was so very valuable… and right now, at this moment, was what she could not do without.
“Her legs gave away, and she collapsed holding it, cradling it in her arms against her chest. On the floor, gasping, she pushed into a sitting position as she gripped the top of the container. It was only 5 inches in diameter and perhaps 8 inches tall. Incredible that something so small, contained what was so needed.
“Giving thanks it would soon be over, she twisted the top. It wouldn’t open. She tried again. It was stuck. She straightened, pinning it under one arm pressing it tight against her side, feverishly working to free the contents inside. NO! she screamed and was on the verge of giving up. Then she remembered something, someone, a wise man, the leader of her group, had told her. Something important.”
At that point, I stopped talking. Alpha and Beta looked at me… waiting. I pointed to what Alpha had struggled with and made a gesture of holding it, tilting at an angle, and then rapping it lightly against the countertop. I made an unscrewing motion. “You can do it…”
Alpha exclaimed, “Oh!” picked it up, tapped it twice. At the first try… it still didn’t turn… she tried again, left-handed… Alpha’s a leftie, and it gave a bit. Then the lid easily spun off.
“Unleash the mayonnaise!” I cried. “The world is saved…” I gave her The Dad Look; she understood exactly what I meant by it. Alpha smiled as she finished making her turkey sandwich. I know she’ll remember this advice the next time she struggles with a jar lid.
I know… I know. It’s a somewhat extravagant story—and yes, this is almost verbatim how I told it to them. A minor incident, just a small point and part in my daughter’s day.
But then… it was about more than just opening a mayonnaise jar.
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