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Celebrating Motherhood Series Humble Life Mary Kate Brown

Teach Me So I Can Learn

Spearmint Haze. That was the name of the paint color I purchased mere weeks after we closed on our first home. Despite living among towers of boxes, before I could bring myself to put a single mug or dinner plate away in our crisp white kitchen cabinets, the interiors needed a fresh coat of paint. Hence the Spearmint Haze. I spent several afternoons bingeing podcasts and painting cabinet shelves; contorting my just-turned-30-year-old-mom-bod in ways that ensured I’d coat every corner and crevice with a cheery pop of mint green. Being careful to not smudge the bright white exteriors with the interior’s new hue, I emerged from one of the lower cabinets with an angled paint brush, my paint-flecked topknot, and spearmint-streaked arms. I took a deep breath and looked up at my 7-year-old daughter who quietly stood taking in the scene. 

“Can I paint the cabinets too, Mommy?” she asked. 

“Well, no, Honey. This isn’t really the best painting project for you.” Envisioning giant drip marks and spearmint smears on my white cabinet exteriors made me cringe inside. “This paint isn’t like the paint you use to make crafts. It’s permanent, and you have to know how to properly brush it on so it doesn’t drip and make a big mess.” I continued. Logical. Reasonable. Understandable enough for my clever girl. 

“Well how about you teach me, and then let me practice, so I can learn how to do it right?” she retorted. Clever indeed.

Woah, I thought. She’s kinda right. 

I looked at my daughter thoughtfully; amazed by the bit of wisdom she unknowingly exuded in a moment of logic more logical than mine! Still, I wasn’t quite prepared to let my 7-year-old hone her painting skills with Spearmint Haze in our new-to-us WHITE kitchen cabinets. Nope. 

“Liv, I’ll tell you what” I began, “you’re right. You should learn how to paint with this kind of paint, and I promise there will be projects here in this house that will be perfect for you to do that. When we are ready to start those projects, then I will teach you.”

***

On a warm October afternoon, my girls and I fetched our gardening tools from the barn and tended to an oversized flower bed on the south end of our new home. Olivia (my 7-year-old) worked zealously, pulling up weeds and turning the soil. She caught the vision for flowers, a bench, and fairy gardens. She skillfully used a garden claw to loosen stubborn roots, and then hauled everything off to the compost pile in a snowsled she towed behind her bike (we don’t have a wheelbarrow yet). I gave her a bunch of tulip bulbs and, without me worrying about even spacing or dirt being flug everywhere, she laid them out and made sure to plant them at just the right depth with the pointy end up. Her adeptness in the garden has come from previous seasons of working together. Her eagerness to tackle a giant gardening project is simply the fruit of giving her the freedom to put her knowledge to work.

Teach me and let me practice so I can learn.

***

My 5-year-old stood on a stepstool beside me, intently watching me slice a cucumber. I paused when she commented on my skill of producing slice after even slice. I opened the drawer next to me and set a small cutting board and paring knife in front of her. With a surprised and delighted expression she asked, “Do I get to help?!” I proceeded to demonstrate proper knife handling, and observed as she produced a selection of wonky cucumber slices. The variety of cucumber slices we served that night didn’t bother anyone. Instead, we marveled at Amelia’s emerging cooking skills.

Teach me and let me practice so I can learn.

***

I stood beside my spitfire of a 3-year-old at the long crafting table of our local children’s museum. She decided to create a felt mask, and of course, she had to use the glue. “Eleora, just a tiny dot. Like this, see?” I modeled for her. “Okay mommy!” she exclaimed as she grabbed the glue bottle and mustered every bit of strength to squirt out a quarter sized blob of Elmer’s glue in the center of her mask. “Opes!” she remarks. All of my encouragement to squeeze just a tiny dot of glue proved unfruitful. We carefully brought the saturated mask home. Later in the day she asked me, “Mommy, can I wear my mask?” “Not yet” I reply, “it’s still not dry because you used too much glue.” “Oh!” she responds, “Next time I will only use a tiny dot, okay?”

Teach me and let me practice so I can learn.

***

One afternoon, Olivia and I sat side-by-side at the large work table in our homeschool room. We just introduced a new topic: adding three numbers together at once. She quickly became frustrated and overwhelmed. As she propped her elbows on her math workbook and buried her face in her hands, I took a deep breath and exhaled my own frustration. We’d been here plenty of times before. I sensed the tension growing between us as I tried to strike the delicate balance between continuing with the lesson while also perceiving and meeting my daughter’s needs. After some strong encouragement to pick up her head and pay attention to her workbook, I noticed my own frustration rising. Was it more important that my daughter figure out this math problem right this moment, or was it more important that I tend her heart? Was it about the math problem at all, or was it about my own agenda to check another lesson off our list? “Hey, let’s go take a break.” I suggested. “Why don’t you pick a book to read, and we’ll come back to this.” Olivia willingly left the table, noticeably relieved. After we both took some time to clear our minds, we returned to the math problems. The tension that once filled the space at our school table had been replaced with a lightness. Her usual eagerness returned, and it was only a matter of minutes before Olivia was solving each three-numbered addition problem on her own. We both learned something that day. 

My paraphrase of my 7-year-old’s request has repeated in my head over the last several weeks since our cabinet painting project (which was worth the effort, by the way). I’ve allowed her simple-yet-profound logic to infiltrate numerous areas of our daily life. It’s this very thing in our day-to-day which makes and shapes our little people into the amazing big people we hope they’ll become. It’s the opportunity we have as mothers to teach, lead, exemplify, and train our children in life skills, social interactions, creative pursuits, emotional outbursts, and all other types of learning. It is our privilege to give our children the grace and space to practice their developing abilities. 

Likewise, as mothers we give the same to ourselves. Parenting can often feel as though we’re the only ones depositing into our children. In reality, we receive as much as we give. When we allow our children to freely practice and develop a new skill, we afford ourselves the same opportunity. It looks like relinquishing a garden patch to the imagination of a 7-year-old. It looks like wincing as your kindergartener slices cucumbers. It looks like toting home a glue-soaked felt mask from the children’s museum. And it looks like taking a reading break in the middle of a math lesson.

Teach me and let me practice so I can learn.

 



Mary Kate and her husband Brian are high-school sweethearts who recently left their lifelong home in the Chicago suburbs for a rural property in Western Michigan. Together they homeschool their three daughters, and are making plans for turning their new property into small-scale homestead. After overcoming numerous health challenges due to autoimmunity, Mary Kate is passionate about helping others find healing and wholeness. She leads an online group teaching the basics of an anti-inflammatory diet, and inspires others to incorporate simple, nourishing, real-food recipes in their own homes. She also writes online at www.choosinggraceblog.com and you can catch up with her on Instagram @choosinggraceblog

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2 COMMENTS
  • Michele Morin
    7 days ago

    This is so wise–and it’s a gift that keeps on giving if we have the stomach for it, because the lessons kids need to assimilate in their teen years are tougher and the stakes are higher. If they’ve learned to crack an egg and use a glue gun in your kitchen, it’s a lot easier to practice parallel parking with them and to be a calm passenger in their first car.

  • Aida
    6 days ago

    Such beautiful truth spoken about how much our children teach us when we allow them to. Thank you for writing this!

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