I’ve been noticing lately that “stay calm” is a great lesson of parenting. Things just work better when I stay calm. With parenting there are so many opportunities to practice: Stay calm when your precious child is bleeding and sobbing. Stay calm when your innocent child says something completely inappropriate for a situation. Stay calm when your adorable child makes a mess that you never thought possible. Stay calm when your sweet child whines with a marathon runner’s tenacity. Stay calm when you realize you forgot to stay calm.
I was contemplating this just last night. That turned out to be fortunate timing because this morning, when my 9-year-old son and I were putting away clean dishes and I was facing away from him, I heard a very loud crash with metallic tinkling overtones. Without turning around I said aloud, “I think I just heard the sound of the silverware drawer falling on the floor…now I’m going to turn around and see what that looks like.” In that brief moment I’d taken, I’d already reminded myself to stay calm, which was a good thing because not only did I see the silverware all over the floor, but I saw sharp knives next to my son’s sock-clad feet.
I asked him to notice the knives and walk carefully away. In an alternative not-so-calm universe I would have had dramatic and loud things to say, that would have included keeping him out of the room entirely, while I fixed everything myself, perhaps alternating with demanding he do some particular task in a stressed-out voice.
Instead, I asked him to get a dish towel from the drawer in the dining area so that we could put the clean silverware from the dishwasher on the towel to make room in the dishwasher for the silverware on the floor. While he was out of the room, I picked up the knives. Then we started cleaning up together.
I didn’t point out that it’s not a good idea to pull out the drawer vigorously. I think he already got that message. In fact, I think being calm left space for it to sink in.
Being calm, also left space for gratitude—gratitude the knives hadn’t landed on his feet, gratitude I’d remembered to stay calm, gratitude that he could help in this situation, gratitude for the opportunity to remind him and myself that when we make mistakes we can just simply fix them, gratitude for his good company.
What could have been an unpleasant interlude turned into a sweet time together.