We were about two minutes away from school when my 15-year-old daughter gasped: she had forgotten something at home…meringues she had stayed up making until 2:00 am the night before for a class project. I glanced backward at her through the rearview mirror and saw the look of complete disappointment and regret on her face. I didn’t wait for her to ask: I told her that I wasn’t sure I would be able to – the school is about a 45-minute drive round trip – but if I had the time, I would go home, get the forgotten meringues, and bring them in.
I went home, finished editing a piece and then mentioned to my client that, although the project would be done even before the deadline, I would be out for the next hour to bring my child at school something she forgot at home. My client said she would never do such a thing. If her kids forget their lunch, they go hungry. If they forget their coat, they are cold. And if they forget their sport uniforms, they sit out for the game. For her, it’s not that she couldn’t drop those things off, but by principle she won’t. For me, it is the opposite. If I can, I will. Not because I need to, but because I want to.
I get it – kids need to be responsible. They need to plan ahead and take care of their things and recognize that there are consequences to their actions. And this is a lesson they will learn; if I was out of town today, or heading into a meeting or had a doctor’s appointment, my daughter would not get her meringues. And she would be upset and she would have to deal, as she has when this has happened in the past.
Yet, today, my work schedule is flexible. I can make the time, and while there are plenty of other things I could be doing, I think this is a pretty important one. My client is trying to teach one life lesson; I am trying to teach another.
As a fully-grown adult, I forget things. All. The. Time. And when I do, other people in my life are good and kind and help me out. So I ask my neighbor if I can borrow sugar when I need it for a recipe and didn’t remember to pick up more from the store. And I call a friend when I forget about an important meeting and need someone to grab the kids from school. And I call my husband when I leave a project at home and ask him to drive it out to me or fax it or do whatever needs to be done so I have it. And not once, in my time of need, has anyone said, “I could help you out, but I am not going to, because you need to learn to be more responsible.” So then why should I then take this approach with my own children?
Dropping them off in the morning and picking them up is a chunk of my day. An extra trip is not one I can do easily. But I will. Because it matters. Because I want to raise kids who empathize when others need help. Who are kind and compassionate and go the extra mile (or miles) to do a favor for another. And I want them to have the comfort and security of knowing that when possible, I have their back. I will help them out. I will come to the rescue. And I do not believe that this will make them more likely to forget something the next time. I do not believe that they will assume I will just bring it to them, but rather, that they will appreciate and recognize that I went out of my way to do them a favor. This teaches them kindness, appreciation, gratitude and support.
Once, my kids and I were at the grocery store, our items scanned and bagged, a huge line behind us when I realized I left my wallet at home. I stood there overwhelmed and at a complete loss: should I put everything back? I just looked at the cashier and apologized. I could hear the annoyance of the people in line, worried they would have to wait while a return was processed. And then, without saying a word, the guy behind me in line swiped his card. As I looked at him in complete shock, he wrote down his address and just told me to send him a check when I could. My children witnessed the relief on my face and the gratitude in my heart to this complete stranger who went out of his way to help me, for no reason other than to help me.
I want them to be like that man. I want them to want to be kind when they can because they can. I don’t need them sitting out of games that they spent time practicing and preparing for or losing points on their homework or assignments because they forgot them at home or missed a deadline. I don’t want to prepare them for the “real” world if that world is one where no one will care, or help or do an act of kindness.
There will be plenty of times, situations and people that won’t give them a second chance, that won’t understand their circumstances. But I want my children to feel that these instances are the exception, and not the rule. And I want them to always have the attitude of “how can I help you?” rather than, “I hope you learned your lesson…”
Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the Co-Director of Interinclusion.org, a social mosaic which perpetuates the arts, sciences, literature, and music through Jewish tradition. She was also the creator and editor of TheJewishWoman.org and has worked as a producer for shows relating to Judaism on the Oprah Winfrey Network and HARPO Productions. She lives with her family in Danby, Vermont where they run Jewish experiential retreats.