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Teachable Vacation Moments – But for Whom?

You take a trip, your kids do great, and on the last day you let them pick out a special souvenir.  Sound familiar?  But what happens if they lose that souvenir before they ever get home? Let’s say it gets left behind, at the hotel or on the airplane.  Your child gets home, eager to use it and it cannot be found.  The house gets searched, the car gets searched, the backpack gets checked over and over again – but alas, it’s not there.  Tears fall, his heart breaks, until a light bulb goes off in his head:  hey, I wonder if I can find it on Amazon?!

You know as he sits there clicking the mouse what the search result will be.  Yes, he will find it there – at even a slightly better price than you paid (thank you very much) at the gift shop.  But that isn’t really the point – is it?  The point is that he was careless.  The point is that he must have gotten distracted by the in-flight movie and didn’t put it back in his backpack while he was on the airplane.  He didn’t pay close attention to his belongings; something you are constantly nagging him about.  When you finally got home, it was too late and he was too tired to think much about anything.  Until 6am the next morning – when he realized it was gone.

Most things, you try to explain, are not replaceable. (Ahem – does anyone ever fact check parents?)  Yes, okay, in THIS instance, you could just order another one on Amazon.  But his sister’s souvenir choice, for example, is a one of a kind Disney item – available only there at the theme park.  If she were the one who had lost her gift, she wouldn’t be able to just click a few boxes and order another.  But the words ring hollow – cuz it wasn’t his sister and who cares about her toy anyway.  The item is in the Amazon shopping cart as you speak.  The tears start to dry up.

There is a lesson here, of course, but I can’t help wondering WHAT it is?  What would that awesome, cool mama that I so long to be do in a case like this?  Is the point to learn to take care of your things?  And if you don’t: too bad – so sad?  Or, is the point to have a beloved souvenir, as a remembrance from such a special trip?  Does the amount of money the item costs factor into it at all – and is that really fair?  Would a cheap little tchotchke be replaced because it doesn’t cost much (so what is all the fuss?) but a more expensive item would not?

What are we trying to teach our kids?  No worries if you lose or break something as most things are replaceable? Of course not!  But what if it was the ADULT that left that special little something (a new book, perhaps, we were just dying to read) on the plane?  Or what if we left our $60 moisturizer back in the hotel room?  What would WE do?  Immediately get a replacement – or tell ourselves to learn our lesson we must do without?

Teachable moments come up now and then and they always make me wonder – who are they really teaching – my kids or me??  My son now knows Amazon is a good place to check for a wide variety of items.  He also knows if someone buys you a gift (like I did for him at the theme park that day) it is a one time only purchase.  If he wants/needs to get a replacement, he is going to have to pay for it.  (Hard for a kid with no allowance to do – but that’s a whole other story!)  He knows now about making mental checklists (backpack – yep, headphones – yep, Disney souvenir bag – oops, not here, let me look around and find it).  Whether he’ll use the checklist suggestion in the future remains to be seen, but the fact that many adults do it seemed to make his buy-in a little stronger.

But what about ME?  What did I learn from this experience?? Going back to that awesome mom I want to be…would I like her if she said, “Well I keep telling you to pay attention to your things!  Next time I hope you won’t be so careless!” Not quite the role model I am shooting for, but those words certainly were on the tip of my tongue.  Better for the mom to act like her heart was breaking right along with her son’s?  “Oh what a bummer!  I know how much you liked the souvenir you picked out.  Losing things like that can be so tough!”

What would you have done if you had been in my shoes?  What, I wonder, would have been the “right” thing to say?

The book remains in our online shopping cart.  If, by the time he has saved up enough money, he still wants it, then it will be his to order.  Maybe it will make him appreciate it that much more.  Who knows.  As for my expensive moisturizer?  It made it home just fine – after all, where did you think I came up with the idea of using a mental checklist?!  I too have learned the hard way.

Maybe that is the real test – not so much the actual incident, but what you take away from it and do differently the next time around.   Maybe there is hope for that cool, Zen Mama Wannabe after all!

(This post was first published on the Silicon Valley Moms Blog.)

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