Dylan was screaming in pain, the sort of fear-driven sobbing that’s hard-wired right into your nervous system, zero to panic in nothing seconds flat, and I was trying to calm Dylan and assess the damage while also turning my head to vent my frustration in Riley’s direction. Technically an accident but also pure carelessness on Riley’s part and goddammit I’d just said — Just said! Just! Said! — not to slam the door while they were playing and he’d done it anyway, right on his brother’s fingers. I wasn’t sure if bones were broken and a deep sliced-open pinch of flesh on Dylan’s knuckle was dripping blood and it was just one of those moments, everyone yelling and crying, total shitshow.

Later I scolded Riley for not listening, not being more careful, not even sticking around to make sure Dylan was okay but bolting out of sheer self-preservation. He was nodding and round-eyed but also maybe getting a little lippy about being on the receiving end of a lecture: “Okay. Okay.” You know that bullshit? Okay my ass. You don’t get to be TIRED of being in trouble. You put something in audible italics and I’m going to be in your face for like ten more hours, just repeating my various points over and over while you agree with FULL SOLEMN ENTHUSIASM EACH TIME.

Anyway. I went to bed that night filled with all sorts of murky worries about empathy and selfishness and taking consequences seriously. I was thinking, I need to know this *means* something to you. It hadn’t seemed to, is the thing. It was like he was upset about us being upset with him, not upset that he’d hurt his brother.

But the next night when I was tucking him in his eyes suddenly pooled and tears ran down his cheeks and he cried out, “I just feel so bad about Dylan.” And he wept that he was sorry and I held him and said that I understood and I told him that we all make mistakes that we feel bad about later and sometimes that’s just how we learn to make better choices. “Even you?” he said in a watery little voice and I kissed him a million times. A billion. Oh, buddy. Yes.


47 Responses to “How we learn sometimes”

  1. M.A. from MI on April 9th, 2014 11:38 am


    Oh, thank you, Linda. I totally needed this right now. Thank you.

  2. Colette on April 9th, 2014 11:39 am

    Loved. Every. Word.

    So real.

  3. Kristen on April 9th, 2014 11:44 am

    Even you? That must have made you feel like you are doing something right. That made me tear up. What a great moment, on so many levels. Thanks for sharing this, Linda.

  4. Deb on April 9th, 2014 11:48 am

    yes to it all.

  5. Emily on April 9th, 2014 12:00 pm

    Tears here (it has the potential of turning into full blown sobbing, but I’m at work so I’ll rein it in). I have kids the same age and I relate so, so much. Seems like those “big” lessons take a while to sink it. Hope little buddy’s hand is ok.

  6. Amy M. on April 9th, 2014 12:01 pm

    Aw, that is so sweet. Agree with every word.

  7. Molly on April 9th, 2014 12:08 pm

    Been there. Been there. You put my feelings into words.

  8. Katharine on April 9th, 2014 12:19 pm

    This is the thing that hurt the most when I screwed up as a kid. I already felt horrible about whatever it was I’d done, and my parents lectured and lectured until I thought my face would melt off and I was just like I KNOW, I KNOW I SCREWED UP, IT HURTS ENOUGH WITHOUT YOUR HELP. Was that maybe the lip he was giving you? “I already feel crappy enough, Mom”?

    I swear I’m not at all trying to make you feel worse.

    PS: this is stunningly written.

  9. JennB on April 9th, 2014 12:21 pm

    Our kids are our best teachers (and our worse students sometimes!!)

    THank you for this. I am trying to cut down on the yelling and freaking out over stuff, and I am continually relieved that there are Others Like Me.

  10. Alexa on April 9th, 2014 12:39 pm

    Simone does this. I think, honestly, she gets embarrassed/feels bad and it is too much to handle so she is defensive and then she can’t find a way to back down. So she seems snotty when what she is really feeling is shame. I don’t know if this is the age of face-saving or what, but I have definitely noticed something similar.

  11. Kyla on April 9th, 2014 1:01 pm

    Tears! So true and good!

  12. Kristen on April 9th, 2014 1:15 pm

    My four year old daughter totally brings this out in both my husband and I. The “why don’t you understand that you’re hurting everyone else with your behavior” thing. And the “and now you’ve hurt them, why don’t you feel bad!?” thing. And we’ve found, like you, that when things get quiet, she gets around to it in her own way. She’s super intense. We are using The Nurtured Heart Approach with her, and it has changed our whole family, and her behavior too, and focused us on her many, many positives, while taking some of the sting out of things we all need to work on. Keep up the awesomeness!

  13. Penne on April 9th, 2014 1:15 pm

    Your writing is so real and so good that I really don’t feel worthy making a comment. But I want you to know that my boys are 14 and 16 and you sucked me right back to that little age and how broken all our hearts were sometimes. And now I can explain to them why I’m crying in the middle of the afternoon sitting at my desk.

  14. jen on April 9th, 2014 1:20 pm

    Mine does the exact same thing. I thought it was just him! He will do something sort of careless/reckless/mean and then not even care. Or at least not seem to care. But maybe he does and just can’t process it in the moment.

  15. rds on April 9th, 2014 1:32 pm

    Thank you. My husband and I joke that our oldest is a sociopath because she so rarely shows remorse and you can scream at her and it barely seems to register. But, then once in a while she shows it and we all feel better. must be a stage – she is 7.

  16. Sunshyn on April 9th, 2014 1:49 pm

    I get this loud, “SORRY!” that he doesn’t mean. I tell him sorry only works if he plans to amend his actions. Kids. Sheesh.

  17. sooboo on April 9th, 2014 4:56 pm

    Aww, this made me tear up too and I don’t even have kids!

  18. honeybecke on April 9th, 2014 10:17 pm

    Audible italics! Ha! Oh Linda, this was so good. I had to read it outloud to my husband. This type of shitshow plays out in our house often often often. I, too, just want to know that it’s getting through to them. Choices matter!

  19. NancyJ on April 10th, 2014 3:55 am

    That was beautiful!
    I don’t remember my mother ever yelling at me like that or talking to me about what I did wrong. I always wish she did because we (my sisters and I) were a little reckless growing up.
    I talked my son to death while he was growing up and I don’t regret a minute of it!
    That “even you?” says it all

  20. Life of a Doctor's Wife on April 10th, 2014 4:59 am

    Beautiful. The moment, the message, the writing – everything.

  21. Suki on April 10th, 2014 5:34 am

    Man, I love everything about this. The story, your writing, the way your writing makes the emotion of the story so real. You’ve done this to me (and I’m sure many of your readers) with several of your entries (entries doesn’t seem like a good enough word here, they’re more like essays to me)- I’m reading along, enjoying the story and your writing and then bam, you just nail me in the last few lines in this way that hits me in my chest. I remember feeling the same way with your a day in the life post. Nice post, nice post, bam, excuse me, I’ll just be quietly choking back tears here in my cube.

  22. Jean on April 10th, 2014 6:11 am

    Echo the sentiment of previous commenters….incrediby touching “moment, message, writing”….thank you Linda

  23. Masshole on April 10th, 2014 6:18 am

    You suck, I’m a dude and I just started crying at work….

  24. Sally on April 10th, 2014 6:59 am

    Empathy is difficult for kids–they are hard-wired to preserve themselves at all costs. Even the nicest kids will lie/ cheat/steal to protect themselves in many instances. I know this as an elementary school teacher. It doesn’t make a bad kid. Of course there are some who never learn it but most kids will be like Riley, and once the incident has passed they will feel the remorse etc. The problem happens when parents believe the first lie–no my kid didn’t do that! He said he didn’t! My kid is not a liar! And so then there is no opportunity for growth. All the kid learns is that lying to get out of trouble is what his parent wants him to do.
    Riley is a great kid and you are doing a great job. :)

  25. Melissa on April 10th, 2014 7:27 am

    Wow. This has so played out exactly like that at my house. There have also been alot of “audible italics” lately. Its an exercise in patience, unfortunately my stamina isnt very high when it comes to that, but Im working on it.
    Its so hard raising little humans.
    Youre a great mom and an incredible writer.

  26. marilyn on April 10th, 2014 8:03 am

    Ugh, I’m so so glad you still write here sometimes, just this. One more person trying not to cry at work.

  27. sal on April 10th, 2014 9:32 am

    Ohhhhhh, this one got me GOOD. You nailed it…all of it.

  28. Anne on April 10th, 2014 10:18 am


  29. another anne on April 10th, 2014 10:31 am

    I love you for putting this real stuff into beautiful words.

  30. Kris on April 10th, 2014 11:21 am

    Don’t leave us hanging ….. How is Dylan’s hand???

  31. H on April 10th, 2014 12:27 pm

    I’ve been that child and I’ve been that mom. So true.

  32. Nancy on April 10th, 2014 12:54 pm

    Love this entry – thank you for writing it and sharing it!

    TwinB can be such a pill to her sister (who admittedly can dish it right back) – but she is the same girl who cried buckets of tears when her sissy fell off her bike last weekend, “because what if she broke her arm again??” Kids have such infinite capacity for emotions – in variety as well as range. Turns out that’s contagious and while they can push my buttons and make me snap, they’ve also helped me loosen up and love more.

  33. Belle on April 10th, 2014 1:22 pm

    That made my eyes well up, just like everyone else. Good Lord, you have a talent for expressing thoughts.

  34. Melissa on April 10th, 2014 3:00 pm

    You should never stop writing. Amazing talent.

    And yes, to all of it. Parenting sucks — constant self doubt, no owners manual to help you figure it out. I assure you, you are doing it right.

  35. Amanda on April 11th, 2014 3:16 pm

    ‘…“Okay. Okay.” You know that bullshit? Okay my ass. You don’t get to be TIRED of being in trouble.’

    THIS. Oh my crap, this. My kid is 4, and he’s the same way. Just done with it, TIRED of it when you’re trying to figure out the whys and hows and whens of something, and then later a crumpled mess, when it sinks in. It always sinks in. It just has to percolate down through their spongy little brainpans.

  36. Amy on April 11th, 2014 6:36 pm

    You are an amazing writer.

  37. Ashley on April 12th, 2014 4:01 pm

    I so worry sometimes about my older daughter, who’s about Riley’s age– she seems to lack empathy too. I worry, too — is the good kind of empathy something you just HAVE or don’t? Can you really learn it??

  38. Annie on April 13th, 2014 12:30 pm

    Audible italics= best description ever!

  39. M. Bailey on April 13th, 2014 6:30 pm

    Thanks for this. Perfect timing. Made me cry. I have two boys too and sometimes wonder if they care about one another the way I imagine them to….and once I a while, what you described happened and you think, “yup”, they care. Sweet, sweet boys.

  40. ememby on April 15th, 2014 7:47 am

    Exactly! I also have two boys and my goodness do I just want them to feel genuinely bad when they’ve hurt each other (better yet, don’t hurt at all, but that’s not going to happen). Thank you!

  41. Nicole on April 17th, 2014 4:33 pm

    Yup,exactly what goes down in my house. I got goosebumps reading.

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