Monday’s usually go pretty well for us here at the Kay household. We like to go big for the workweek’s first breakfast, which means we eat bagels- Lots of them. Owen, our 2 1/2 year old, knows the drill, and ashamedly has come to be a bit entitled for a blueberry bagel, toasted, with an almond honey schmear. It’s been this way for over half his life. This past Monday was no exception. Owen waited, somewhat patiently, as I popped his bagel into the toaster, spread his schmear, then wrapped it in a paper towel for him. He wanted to help so I kicked his stool to the counter and watched as he toasted a bagel for me. I stepped backed and watched, loving how excited he was to help and get involved.
Everything was going per routine. We ate our breakfast then started getting dressed to play outside. Owen finished his bagel while I worked to dress Elliott, our youngest. That’s when it happened. Moments later I smelled smoke. I called out to Owen and heard a giggle. Not his mischievous one, but the I’m-proud-of-myself, giggle. With Elliott in hand I peeped back into the kitchen and saw a small flame flickering from the toaster. Owen looked over the fire from atop his step stool, beaming.
“Look Daddy!” He smiled.
I laid Elliott down (I think) and darted to Owen. By the time I got to the toaster the flame had risen a good foot, nearly licking the underside of the cabinets. Inside I could see it had been stuffed with paper towels. I unplugged the toaster, doused a dishcloth and draped it over the fire then
walked ran it all outside.
“Look Daddy!” Owen said, pointing to the gathering smoke.
I was sucking in air to yell, but then the smoke detector sounded. It’s during these moments if someone asked me if I practiced corporal punishment I’d give a definite no… I believe in capital punishment. I grabbed a skillet and wafted the smoke from the detector. It calmed me down. Good thing, I wasn’t sure what I was going to say, it was only going to be a reaction. Nothing good ever comes from that.
As I waved the skillet in the air I kept thinking over and over, What on Earth was he thinking?
He was thinking. and not only that he was creating. He was taking something he enjoyed, toasting bagels with Daddy, replicating it and then making it his own. Unfortunately this one circumstance came close to a disaster, but that was not Owen’s intention. I thanked God right then I didn’t ream Owen. He was so proud of his pyrotechnic ingenuity. This wasn’t a devious machination designed to destroy our home. Had I lambasted Owen, his two year old mind wouldn’t have taken it as a scolding for being careless. He would have thought I was attacking his attempt to create and discover- His burning, God-given desire to explore and create. I think we all have this fire in us.
I’m not saying I shouldn’t have said anything, (Owen definitely got a firm talking to about fire and toaster troubleshooting.) I’m also a big fan of boundaries and telling my kids ‘no.’ I’ve learned, however, that I need to be mindful of what I’m trying to correct when the crazy happens and discipline is required. Too many times I’ve allowed the severity of the consequences of my two-year- old’s actions dictate how I discipline him. If he can’t understand that stuffing paper towels in the toaster may burn down the house, he won’t understand why I’m yelling at him for doing it. In this case yelling at him would have done more harm than good. First he wasn’t trying to play arsonist and burn down the house and second, his mental capacity limits him in how he understands the consequences of his actions. He knows now if he touches the toaster without Daddy he will go to time out, and that’s about all I can expect out of him at this point. Looking back, I wish the conversation after the chaos had included all of these points.
- Did Daddy take the toaster outside and seem angry? Here’s why.
- Next time you have to be with Daddy if you want to touch the toaster.
- I’m glad you’re trying something new.
- Do you want to toast something again?
I believe that would help Owen see that I’m glad he was trying something new, but at the same time there are some rules he needs to follow. It saddens me to think of all the imaginative little fires I’ve stifled in him from my knee-jerk reactions. I should applaud him for trying something different, and be grateful that he finds things in life that he enjoys and wants to experience. When we’re not intentional with disciplining our children’s “bad behavior” their innate desire to create is at risk of being marred. I still tell my kids no, I still discipline them, but I’ve also learned to give them a high five for trying something new and to show them a safer, more appropriate way if they’re attempts risk burning down the house.
Our children’s creativity is a fragile gift. Hone it, don’t stifle it.