My childhood was spent in western Massachusetts, in a small rural community located at the base of Mount Greylock. My parents had purchased my grandparents’ home and I celebrated my second-fourteenth birthdays there. We knew most of our neighbors, skipped rocks in the brook on the way to and from school and were told “you can go play in the neighborhood, but be home by the time the streetlights dim.”
Across the street from my house was what everyone referred to as “The Goat Hill” (mainly because it was steep enough to go sliding down on a piece of cardboard in the summer, or a metal saucer in the winter), but the nickname also came about because the owner let her goats graze all over the fenced in part of the hill. The rest of her hillside acreage was left to be natural….leaves building up, wildflowers dotting the landscape ; perfect hiding places for children to play hide-n-seek or have a picnic, looking up from the blanket and guess what forms the clouds reminded them of.
One July afternoon, While careening down the steepest side of the hill, I hit a rock, steered off course and both me and the cardboard ended up in one of my neighbor’s flower beds. Although not knowing her very well, even at the age of nine, I knew the right thing would be to take the time and apologize for flattening her blooms. My two friends scampered away in fear as I picked up my battered piece of cardboard and walked up Mrs. Anderson’s manicured walkway.
Knocking on her front porch door, I practiced what I was going to say to her, figuring if I offered to buy her new plants, she might take it easy on me. After three knocks and what seemed like an eternity of waiting, a small, white-haired woman came to the door and glared down at me through her spectacles.
“Hi ma’m, I live across the road. My name is Debi.”
“Yes, I know who you are child; your Babci (Polish word for grandmother) and I have coffee and conversation while you children are in school. How can I help you?”
“Um, well… ” holding up the cardboard, “I went the wrong way coming down the hill and your flowers are now ruined.”
“I see young lady ,” she said, peering over my head to the area where her flowers had once stood.
“And if you were me, what do you think would be the best way to handle this situation?” Mrs. A’s serious tone and intense eye contact made me feel uncomfortable; I wanted the steps to open up and swallow me.
Was this a trick? Why is she asking me to come up with the consequences? All thoughts of my idea to pay for new plants went out of the noggin and I went completely blank.
Stammering in confusion, I remembered to say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to go off course and end up in your yard.”
“That’s nice dear, but what are you going to do so this doesn’t happen again to another one of our other neighbors.” As she looked me up and down, I truly felt very small and insignificant.
” I will buy you new flowers and plant them for you.”
” That’s very nice dear, and yes, you can do that for me, but you still haven’t solved the problem of preventing further mishaps with your cardboard shenanigans.”
Oh no, I thought, she called them shenanigans….that did not sound as if I was going to get off easy and her word choice indicated her disapproval. I thought for sure the next thing was a call to my mom.
“Well, I’m waiting dear. Does the cat have your tongue or are you avoiding my question?”
” I guess I should rethink the path I am going to use when sliding down the hill. And I can also talk to the other kids so that we can be safer when playing together. How does that sound?”
After those shenanigans, we changed our route for going down the Goat Hill and no other flowers were sacrificed during our fun. I grew up that day, thanks to Mrs. Anderson treating me like an adult and making me accountable for my actions.
Be sure to treat your sons and daughters with the respect they deserve. If they have the ability to do the task, then they are also able to accept the consequences when something goes unexpectedly. And yes, you may have to guide them in the problem solving process, but don’t let that stop you from helping them learn the life lesson.