The Lesson I Learned From a Broken Crayon

by Melissa Sher
Originally Published: 
A male kid with brown hair sitting and looking into the camera with a sad facial expression

My four-year-old ran out of his room. There was toothpaste all over his shirt and his sneakers were on the wrong feet. My toddler ran after him. His hair and shirt were wet.

“What did you do?” I asked the four-year-old.

We were already running late. Now we would be even later. A tight ball formed in my stomach. “What did you do?” I was mad.

My four-year-old was oblivious to my anger. “I went potty, I got dressed, and I brushed my teeth.” He was jumping up and down with delight.

He had dressed himself. He had brushed his teeth. And he had gone to the bathroom. He had done all of it without my prompts. This is what I had been trying to get him to do for … well, his whole life. This was a good thing. Actually, this was a great thing.

Breathe, girl. Breathe. (No, I don’t have a dog. I was talking to myself.) I needed to calm down, and I needed to do it immediately. I thought about a friend’s status update on Facebook:

“Maggie comes to me all excited and proud. She then proceeds to break a brand-new crayon in two. ‘Maggie!’ I say, ‘Why in the world did you just break a brand-new crayon?!’ And she looks at me all wide-eyed but the joy and pride that was there a second ago is gone. And then she burst into tears, saying between her sniffles, ‘I just wanted to show you how strong I was!’”

Maggie’s crayon. Hadn’t I learned anything from Maggie’s crayon?

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My son wasn’t trying to make us late. He was trying to help. He was trying to be self-sufficient. He had even combed his little brother’s hair. That’s why it was wet. He hadn’t just combed it. He had styled it.

Breathe, I thought. And I did. The tight ball in my stomach started to go away.

His shoes could be changed. And, throughout the day, his shirt would get a lot dirtier. This was not a big deal. This wasn’t anything. This was a good day.

And, truth be told, we were not running late because of him. We were running late because I have three little kids. We were running late because I didn’t wake everyone early enough. We were running late because I had just finished filling up water bottles and making lunches. We were running late because shit happens. Shit happens — I believe that’s Shakespeare.

And as if on cue, shit did happen. My toddler squatted, his face turned red and he grunted.

Then we really were late.

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