It’s Saturday morning, and I’m in charge of painting a forest of cardboard trees.
My middle school daughter is a drama kid (theatre versus crises, in this case), which means I’m a drama parent, expected to give various weekends to whatever it takes for the show to go on: set building, prop making, costume sewing, cookie buying, and glue gunning. LOTS of glue gunning. (Side note: I cannot believe I was a glue gun virgin until now.)
“Bring your kids to help,” says the drama teacher, Ms. K.
So we do. And all is well until it’s time for the kids to actually help.
“I’m looking for a lush forest here,” Ms. K tells me with sweeping gestures, as I stare at the hillside of brown cardboard I’ve spread about for painting with three different shades of green paint. A giant task for sure.
The kids mill about, checking their phones, willing to assist but not certain where or how to jump in.
“Hey you guys!” I yell, “Come help paint the trees!”
But Ms. K. goes stiff, her growing eyeballs clearly communicating her disapproval of my invite.
Uh oh. “What’s stressing you about that?” I ask.
“The kids,” she says. “I’m afraid they’ll get paint all over themselves, track it back into the drama room, and get it on everything in there. It will be a disaster.”
Ms. K. sees the future and it’s messy. What I immediately recognize, though, is the message I give my own kids all too often: I’m planning on you screwing this up.
Don’t spill your milk like last time. Don’t forget your homework again. What will you do if you don’t make the soccer team? (To which my son said to me, “Wow, mom. Plan for failure much?” P.S. He made the team.)
“Let’s write a different ending,” I say to Ms. K., and bring the tween trio over to the cardboard forest.
“Here’s the deal,” I say. “We know you can do a great job with this project and Ms. K. is concerned about paint coming back into the drama room.”
They nod. “It won’t,” says Colin.
“So after you paint,” I continue, “Look yourself over and stay out of the room if you have any paint on you. OK?”
They nod again. “We’ll be careful,” says Julia.
That was it.
We got to work. They painted. They helped. And honestly, they did a great job. Our trees magically went from brown cardboard to lush green. And the kids high-fived one another, experiencing the thrill of being counted on to contribute and succeed.
“Amazing,” said Ms. K., admiring our collective efforts and the lack of paint on body parts.
Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest through the cardboard trees. Our kids are smart, and capable, and full of promise. So let’s talk to them like we truly believe that.
Let’s talk to them like we believe in them.More On