She had spent days collecting the makings of her project valuing even household trash for its potential.
She discarded some items and assigned others roles.
After thoughtful selection the materials were ready.
She had the stuff, but more importantly she had the dream.
A coffee-can body, easter eggs for shoes, cardboard arms and bottle cap eyes.
We worked together at the dining room table assembling her vision; I operated the hot glue, she gave the orders. With the last grocery store produce-tie antenna in place, she exhaled, clasped her hands, and beamed. We took a picture, and another, and one more before she crawled into bed and asked that it be tucked in with her.
The next day brought the usual rush of the morning. We grabbed lunches and backpacks, brushed heads, ate breakfast, and headed out the door for our 25 minute journey across town to school. This particular day was one of my only days off--away from school and work of my own. All week I had looked forward to coming back to my house and indulging in a quiet breakfast and to maybe do some writing. After executing the car line drop off and making it back across town I pushed my key into the door and opened it to the possibility of coffee, quiet, and words.
I had barely set down my things and walked around the corner when something caught my eye at the entry to her bedroom.
My heart sank.
There it was!
I walked up to it. I looked at it. I stared at it for a long time wishing it weren’t true.
Still, there beside her bed, swaddled tightly in doll blankets, was her robot.
I have left many a lunchbox, jacket, schoolbook, or other such needed item in its forgotten place for the sake of teaching responsibility. I’ve read, Parenting with Love and Logic cover to cover. I have discussed it with my friends. “Let them fail young, when the stakes are lower!” “We must not enable! We must not cater to irresponsibility!”
But this felt different. Yes, it was her very first school project, due today, and for that reason it was important--but this is not what nagged my heart. At the time I discounted the possibility of the Holy Spirit moving me to action for such a seemingly unimportant thing. Nonetheless, I felt the prick of my conscience to do something. I scooped up that swaddled robot, cardboard arms sticking out, and I raced right out of the quiet and into the rush of traffic and freeways and chaos.
With another 25 minutes of driving came 25 minutes to think, and I started to feel unsure about my decision.
One time my husband had left his laptop at home during a workday and with only one car, there was nothing to do but for me to bring it to him.
I suppose I could have said,
“No no no, you’ve got to learn responsibility! Next time you will remember your laptop sweetie.”
Of course I had not. He needed it and I was able to help. As I drove on doubting my decision, I reminded myself of this. My daughter needed me and I was able to help.
Isn't she every bit a valuable person as my fully grown husband who had once made a similar mistake?Besides, we all make mistakes, right?
Should we always be so swift to withhold mercy for the chance to teach a lesson?
Still, I knew the reason compelling me to give up half of my day to taxi a cardboard robot was larger than the struggle between the right or wrong way to teach responsibility.
I could have taken a stance either way and justified it, but honestly it didn’t matter.
The minute I had seen that robot, I had heard that still small voice telling me to pick it up and to GO.
Soon I was walking to her classroom, visitor badge displayed on the sweats I had not had time to change out of. My footsteps carried throughout the quiet of the halls and my heart began to beat a little faster. I was happy to do this thing for my daughter, I was excited to see her face and to witness the relief, the joy she might feel to be reunited with her creation. I opened the door and made eye contact with her teacher, unsure of whether or not it was an appropriate moment to interrupt.
I explained the situation and she kindly said,
“Oh you didn’t have to do that! She could have brought it tomorrow.”
For just one moment I felt ashamed. I had given in to that parental weakness that we guard so fiercely against and it had been unnecessary.
But then I saw her. My daughter, eyes alight, smiling, beaming.
Her beloved Kindergarten teacher asked her if she would like to set the robot on the table with the others. We walked together out to the hall--her one hand in mine, the other cradling the robot.
She set her robot down among the similar recyclables and then turned to me.
I bent down to listen as she asked,
“How did you know I left it?”
I answered practically, “Well, I walked by your room and I saw it there.”
There was a pause before she threw her arms around my neck and whispered,
“Thank you for noticing.”
That day I could have taught my daughter a lesson in responsibility, but quite obviously the lesson was meant for me. Truth delivered in four small words.
Thank you for noticing.
Isn’t that what all of us want?
To be noticed? To be known?
I will never forget that morning, and even though she may not distinctly remember the details, I hope it grows as this promise in her heart:
There may come a day when she loses sight of who she is, but I will know.
The world might try to dictate what is important, but I will always care about what is important to her.
And when the realists persuade her to abandon her dreams, and she forgets them, swaddled tightly in the blankets of her childhood, I will notice.
I will remind her that there is a God who cares about our dreams, and of the still small voice that tells us to pick up those dreams and to go...
...and I will watch her beam.