November 20, 2003

make mistakes

Tonight during the long car ride home (I hate Thursdays: I have to drive across town during rush hour), Damian told me his friend Corey's minivan doesn't have an air conditioner vent in the back seat. I told him it does. He said, "Oops, I mean the red car [our '88 Accord] doesn't have them."

I was a little taken aback, but ended up with this: "You did mean Corey's car, I think. But you made a mistake and you wanted to pretend you didn't."

He agreed, sounding small and sad. "It's not okay to make mistakes."


I said the only thing I could: Yes it's okay to make mistakes. In fact, everyone makes mistakes. Every single day. Your teacher, she makes mistakes. I do.

And I told him of one he'd just witnessed on the ride home -- I unintentionally cut someone off. The guy was very mad but that was because he didn't know it was a mistake. (Also because he was an ass, but that's a different homily altogether.)

Damian thought about this for a minute while we headed into the lights of West Hollywood. He commented on the neon-bright stars lining the street. I thought we were done with the topic. But no. A moment later, "Why do people make mistakes?"

"We make mistakes because we're just learning something, or because we forget. I made that mistake because I'm just learning how to drive this car and I didn't know what to do at that moment. You made the mistake about C's a/c vent because you forgot. Everyone makes mistakes, sometimes because they're tired, sometimes because they're thinking about something else, sometimes because they just don't know. It's okay. It's normal. When Daddy gets home, let's ask him what mistakes he made today."

That seemed to help.

The subject came up again during the bedtime ritual. Dan told Damian a mistake he'd just made when he came in the door: he'd asked Damian if he was done with his ravioli and could Daddy eat it? Only thing was, Damian was eating lasagna. Which the kid was happy to point out.

So Dan mentioned that mistake. Damian smiled a little in recognition. Then Dan said "It's good to make mistakes."

Damian, of course, wanted to know why. Dan said "Because we learn from our mistakes. Mistakes are a big part of learning. On The Magic School Bus, Ms. Frizzle always says 'Get messy, take chances, make mistakes!' That's because you can't learn anything if you don't take chances and if you're doing something new, you'll make mistakes and then you'll learn what to do different."

I think this has been with Damian a long time, this fear of making mistakes. He didn't try to walk on his own until we set up a row of big water bottles across the living room floor so he could take a few steps from one to the next, never in danger of falling. Never in danger of making a mistake. I think he doesn't draw much now at least partly because he's afraid of doing it wrong. His issues probably make this more acute, but I think it may be part of his personal makeup. It makes me sad. When we fear life, we don't live. If there's anything we can do for him as parents, I hope it's this: I hope we can teach him to fall flat on his ass, having taken that step on his own, having tried and failed and gotten up to try again.

Posted by Tamar at November 20, 2003 09:35 PM