“Why do you always say I learn from my mistakes? Do I always have to get in trouble to learn stuff?!”
My son was hanging out the car window waving at neighboring cars in traffic until I scolded him to close the window and put his body in the car. “We don’t know those people, Abe! We don’t know if they are kind or safe, and we surely don’t hang out of car windows.”
“Sorry, mom,” he said before laying that first line on me. “Seriously though, mom. Why can’t I learn from something that’s not a mistake?”
It was a really fair question. And without wanting to turn this into long and drawn out “teachable moment,” I tried to leave out my own historical findings as a human and distill my words. “You know, you say ‘making mistakes’ and ‘getting in trouble’ like they’re bad things.”
“They ARE bad mom,” he rolled his eyes.
“Only if you choose to see them that way. What if making mistakes is actually awesome because, like you just said, it’s how we learn new stuff.”
Sometimes as a mom I even surprise myself.
While my child continued rolling his eyes and feeling annoyed, I thought back to all of my mistakes that led to learning really big things. I’d say the biggest mistake was getting married because I thought I had to. Married was what I wanted to be. The man I married, my son’s father, was the obvious choice because I loved him and he asked me. That mistake was never a conscious thought. I didn’t make the mistake while thinking, “This isn’t a heartfelt decision at all. This is a ‘Keeping up with the Jonses’ decision.” Of course, not. I whole-heartedly thought I was doing the very best thing, and it took years to tune into my conscious mind and understand where I went wrong. (It probably took him years to figure out the same thing.) But I learned so many huge lessons from those mistakes. Now in my second marriage, I understand what they mean when they say, “When you know, you know,” and also, “Marriage is difficult.” I understand because I’m here. I’m in it. Consciously. Fully.
I didn’t know you can’t microwave metal until I did it. I didn’t know internet lines run underground until I cut one with a shovel. I didn’t know high heels sink in dirt until I wore a pair to an outdoor wedding. And while all of these caused inconvenient experiences in my life, I learned from them. So how can mistakes really be all that bad? What if mistakes are actually awesome?!
Truth be told I hate making mistakes. I hate being wrong. But I convinced myself in the car that afternoon that, once again, changing my mindset would probably change the way I feel about mistakes.
“Mom! Check out my mistake!” Later that night, my son showed me a picture he drew.
“Where’s the mistake?” I asked.
“You can’t see it. I made the mistake, learned from it, and decided to turn it into something better. Now you can’t even find it!”
Hi. My name is Erin, and my 7-year-old son is my greatest teacher. Everyday.