I don't spend a lot of time dwelling in the past — mostly because, for better or worse and especially as I age, I forget things the instant they've passed. But some moments stick with me, especially the ones I'm not proud of.
I could live with those moments if they happened in a vacuum and there was only my self-disappointment to contend with. But the cost is higher when others are watching, and we see the stain our actions and words can leave on them.
One of my unproudest moments came about a year ago, when my oldest was in kindergarten.
Each morning on the walk to school, the spring dandelions called to her, just begging to be picked. They'd always called her, from the time she could walk. We'd go to a park and she'd toddle over to the flowers, plucking them one by one until she had a fistful — and so pleased with herself as she delivered a bouquet as sunny as she was.
That kindergarten morning, as she stopped for what felt like the millionth time to pick yet another dandelion, my impatience got the best of me.
“You know that dandelions are just weeds, don't you?” I muttered.
I felt a quick pang of regret and wished I could pull the words back in, but she didn't seem to have much reaction.
I wasn't actually sure she even heard me as she picked several more. Satisfied, we finally walked on to school, kissed goodbye as always, and I didn't think much about the encounter again.
A sunny day found our family of four out for a walk. In a gesture reflective of my intention to set aside agenda and let my girls and their sweet, meandering curiosity lead the way, I picked a dandelion and offered it to my girl.
“Nah. You can give it to her,” she said, pointing to her little sister. “I don't want a weed.”
Gut punch. I wanted to go back to that kindergarten morning for a do-over.
I realized those careless words had broken off a piece of her magic and robbed her of some of her innocence. My words. I had failed her.
It wasn't the first time I'd disappointed myself as a mother, and I'm sure it won't be the last. As much as I wish otherwise, I can't unsay it any more than I could make the earth spin backwards. What's done is done.
But I am forever more aware of the power of my words, that it takes only a single drop of a voice of influence to douse the spark of imagination.
The good news is that the same amount of encouragement can ignite a lifetime of curiosity, query and cultivation.
Positive reinforcement can become groundwork for confidence.
Patience for exploration can someday blossom into a guiding, wayfinding passion.
If I did get the chance to re-write that scene, I'd like to think I'd start by building in more time to let that little girl pick dandelions to her heart's content. And I'd accept each offering with the graciousness it deserved, saying, “My, what a lovely flower, almost as beautiful as you are. Let's wish on it together.”