I had been upstairs making a to do list for getting the house cleaned and I came downstairs to a couch absolutely covered in chili powder. Quiet two-year-olds are always into mischief.
“Did you put chili powder all over the couch?!?” I demanded, my voice rising with frustration. Then I looked at her face. It fell. She had been so happy.
“Yes.” She said in a quiet voice.
I looked at the couch in frustration. She watched my face. At almost exactly the moment that I noticed the small bowl and measuring teaspoon, she fled the room bawling. I followed her, “It’s okay, Sweetheart. It’s okay. Mommy’s not mad.”
She sniffed, “You not mad?”
I petted her head, “Nope. I’m not mad. You were just trying to cook, right?”
“Right.” She smiled at me through her tears, “I be a mommy. I cook burritos.”
“It’s okay.” I say, hugging her to me. “It’s a little messy for the couch though. Next time let’s keep the chili powder in the kitchen.”
She started crying again. “I mess on couch. I kitchen. I cook kitchen.”
“It’s okay, Baby. It’s okay! We can clean it up. Do you want to help me clean it up? We can use the vacuum.” I try to reassure and entice her.
“We clean up?” She asked me still teary-eyed. She brightened to her normal sunny self, “Okay! That’s awesome!”
Looking at the couch, she looked up at me and said, “I made big, big mess! I sorry.”
“Did you have fun?” I asked her.
“Yes. I cooked. I like Mommy.” She smiled at me.
“You are!” I agreed. “We can clean up the mess. What’s important is that we have fun and learn things and clean up after ourselves when we’re done.”
So, we vacuumed and wiped down the coffee table and lamp.
We both learned a lot from a little bit of chili powder.
She learned that messes can be cleaned and not to be afraid to make them. She learned that cooking happens in the kitchen. She learned to clean up after herself. She learned that Mommy doesn’t punish her, or get mad, when she makes mistakes.
I learned that my every word and expression count. I am the most important person to that amazing, intelligent, sensitive little girl and I have to weigh what I say and do against that. I learned that looking at the world a second longer can make all the difference in the world. It’s easy to miss little bits of evidence and attribute things to naughtiness that are simply development. I learned that it’s easy to vacuum chili powder out of a couch.