In my last post about great silly books to share with kids, I intentionally left out one of the most famous silly books of all time. We’ve actually been reading it and its companion books quite a lot. It’s full of hilarity, but I don’t read it as a silly book anymore. I read it as a parenting manual. What silly book could I possibly be referring to? Amelia Bedelia, of course! Peggy Parish’s famous character and all the books about her crack my children up. They still make me smile, too, but recently I had a revelation while reading them that makes me stop and take some parenting inventory while I read those fabulous books.
You know Amelia Bedelia, right? That silly maid who takes everything absolutely literally and does all the wrong things, but somehow knows how to bake delicious and complicated desserts like cream puffs and lemon meringue pie? (My six-year-old son is on to you, Amelia Bedelia). Last week as we were reading, Thank You, Amelia Bedelia, he asked, “How does she know how to bake so well, but she doesn’t know how to do anything else?” He was seriously perplexed. Without giving it much though, I answered, “Maybe someone taught her how to bake, but didn’t teach her anything else.” And man, the moment those words left my mouth it was like a bright flashlight shone right into my eyes. And it did, because my two-year-old was playing with one. But figuratively speaking, I had an “Oh!” thunder clap parenting moment. Amelia Bedelia is like every child in the history of the world!
Why is this such a revelation for me? Well, my oldest two kids are eight and six now. They’re pretty big, right? I mean, they can do a lot of things. Pick stuff up, put stuff away, clean stuff…or at least, that’s what I think they should be able to do. At the onset of this summer, though, I found myself harboring a sustained frustration at them. The ancient Mom Complaints went through my head a million times a day. “This place is always a mess! Why can’t they put anything away? Do I have to do everything around here? Why are there shoes on the coffee table?” (It’s ironic that we are the cause of these complaints in our early days here on earth and then we are the thinkers of those complaints later…sorry, Mom!). But then, I was reading about Amelia Bedelia scattering roses around the living room and stripping sheets (tearing them into strips, that is), and I thought, “Ha, that’s something my kids would do.” Ding, ding! That’s something your kids would do if you didn’t TEACH them how to do it the right way or explain what you meant!
What it comes down to is my son was onto something. Amelia Bedelia could do one thing well, because someone probably taught her how. Amelia Bedelia didn’t know how to do anything else at all, because no one ever taught her how to do it. Yes, yes, I know, most kids are born with twice as much common sense as Amelia Bedelia. But even though these books are just meant to be fun and silly, they changed this family’s summer. All of a sudden, I understood that I needed to see this summer break from homeschooling as a time to school the kids on how to live in a home. It was time for me to explain to them what I mean when I say, “Sort the laundry” and “clean up the living room.” It was time to settle in and give gentle (…mostly gentle) reminders throughout the day about putting shoes away and clearing the table after dinner so that these things that matter to us as parents become habits for the children in my home.
It’s been about a month since I made this discovery, and I certainly still get frustrated, but at least we have some foundation for what the kids know we expect from them now. At least when I get frustrated that there’s dirt all over the floor, they understand why, because they just vacuumed that room themselves yesterday and now they have to do it again. I guess you can say reading Amelia Bedelia taught me that it’s completely fruitless to be frustrated with my children if I wasn’t taking the time to explain and train. Now, every time I read those books to the kids, I am reminded of that lesson and I ask myself how I’m doing at it.
Thanks for the parenting lesson, Amelia Bedelia.
More lessons from books on Mia The Reader:
Wisdom in Literature for Everyday Life
The Unquestioned Burdens