Riley had gone down to the car last night to retrieve something. I was annoyed when we went to the car this morning and discovered she'd left the car light on all night. Her first response was defensive: "I was looking for something!" "Then leave the car door open and the light will stay on. Do not touch the switch!" She was still defensive, but all I wanted was an acknowledgment that she'd learned from this and wouldn't do it again. (I'd gone through the same thing with Sylvia a few years ago, and it hasn't happened again with her.)
I thought about my own reaction to making mistakes. Of course, the older I've gotten, the more I've learned to control that first impulse to defend myself.
One of my favorite directors taught me something I'm trying to pass on to the girls. When rehearsals get to the point where you're just running through the show, at the end of the run-thru, the director will give notes to the actors. There's usually some back and forth, and sometimes that's necessary. "You were late for that entrance." "I was still changing my costume." Then things need to be figured out to allow more time for the costume change. But most of the notes are about how things look out in the audience versus how they feel on the stage. It doesn't really matter what the intentions were; they weren't coming across so you have to adjust. This particular director would put a stop to an actor's protest with the words "just take the note."
That appealed to me. It made it clear that she wasn't looking for sorrow or shame on our part, just an acknowledgment to make it right.
It's not that we don't like making mistakes because it shatters some illusion that we're perfect; it's that we don't like letting others down. I don't want the girls to feel bad when they've messed up; I just need them to acknowledge that they've learned from it.
When I auditioned for the musical a few weeks ago, Sylvia and I were in the same group for the dance portion. I asked her afterward how I did. She said, "fine," but her eyes said something else. I encouraged her to give me feedback. When she did, she was very quick to say, "I'm sorry, Mom, I don't want to make you feel bad!" She'd told me that I did something funny with my hands, and I wasn't even aware that I'd been doing so. I told her not to feel bad, and I thanked her for bringing it to my attention. And it was the perfect opportunity to remind her that when I tell her something, it's not to make her feel bad, it's so she can learn from it.
After Riley acknowledged that she would no longer change the light switch in the car, I let a minute go by and then did something we do as our version of a hug when I'm driving. I reach for her foot, and she puts it out for me, and I squeeze it. Soon enough, she was singing along and the matter was closed.
And I don't think she'll ever touch the car light switch again.