Monday, February 16, 2009

Helicopter Parenting

Mini Remote Controlled HelicopterYou might remember that just before Christmas I was given a mini remote controlled helicopter from Horizon Hobby to review. This made me one Lucky Duck because it just so happened that a remote controlled plane was what David, age 10, had been wanting. I was so excited to give it to him--it wasn't something that we would have normally pitched in for and I was slightly nervous about whether he'd be able to fly it. Handing a delicate $160 toy to a child is always a bit of a gamble you know?

I figured it would be a good thing for him to be able to have some trust given him along with a healthy dose of responsibility because kids need to have opportunities to shine. If it broke, it broke. Lesson learned, right?

Well Christmas morning came and you can imagine how thrilled he was. He pulled it out of the box while we explained how to fly it and had him go through all the requisite flight simulation training and he did quite well. In fact it wasn't too long before he had the little guy zooming around the room, landing on people's outstretched hands or hovering in mid air next to me as I sat typing (he thought it was funny to fan me with the blades).

I was impressed because it seemed like the experiment was a success and the whole thing had been good for him but I'd forgotten my other son. The toy was a magnet and Spencer was dying to try it and was constantly asking for a turn. We kept explaining that just because he was older didn't mean that he could automatically fly it as well as David, that he needed to learn how and practice and be careful just as David had if he wanted to fly it without damaging it.

With enough pestering David finally handed it over to let Spencer take a turn and almost immediately on his third or fourth try he overshot things and smashed the helicopter against the wall. It dropped like a rock and lay on the floor, the little fly bar above the blades broken in two, quivering in pain.

When they brought it to me it was immediately apparent that this wasn't something that a spot of glue or a touch of duct tape could fix, the bar was snapped and without the bar the radio signals wouldn't get through. The only option was to put it out of its misery.

Of course David was angry that his toy was broken. Spencer was very sorry--VERY sorry--but it was really too late, he hadn't paid attention to the warnings and was now experiencing the consequences of his cockiness. This all brought me to a horrible decision: how to deal with the perpetrator?

It's always been our philosophy that if you break something you are responsible for fixing it. Just because it's an accident doesn't mean the responsibility for making things right disappears. Feeling sorry is a start but that's only half way to making it better. Luckily--or unluckily depending on how you look at it--my kids have been on the other end of the experience where someone's broken something of theirs without replacing it so at least Spencer could relate to how it feels to be the victim.

I had told him before he started that if he broke the helicopter it would be his responsibility to have it fixed so he knew what consequences he was now facing. As it happens he'd been saving up for a new bike. He had scrimped and horded his pennies for a year and had saved $100--and given that he doesn't have an allowance or any significant source of income you can imagine how hard it was to get that much together.

Now, as we all looked at the broken helicopter on the counter we realized that it was probably going to take more than his entire savings to make this moment's mistake right again and I was aching for him. I knew what I had to say but it killed me to do it.

"Spencer--you realize that this means you're going to have to do whatever it takes to fix David's helicopter don't you?"

"Yes."

"It'll probably take all of your bike money to get it fixed or to buy him a new one if it can't be fixed--and this looks pretty bad."

"I know."

I knew he was sorry but regardless of how many tears were shed if he was truly sorry, if he really wanted to make things right he'd do everything he could to make recompense even if it meant sacrificing what he'd saved. I couldn't help but think that as painful as it was to enforce the penalty, if he learned a lesson now it would be the cheapest way to learn it--can you imagine this same situation when he's 16? With a car? He's just lucky this is a scenario that can be fixed with money--many problems can't.

So I put things off for a few days until I had some errands to run then we all piled in the car with the broken body of our little helicopter in a box and made the sad procession to the hobby store to see if there was any hope.

When I walked in the door and up to the counter the clerk was busy helping a man and they were both bent over something and as I approached I could see that it was the exact model and brand of mini remote helicopter that I held. A man came up behind me in line and he had a box with another identical helicopter. On the shelf behind the counter was another and next to the cash register sat another, charging.

Apparently I'd come to the right place.

I showed the clerk the box with the mangled body of the chopper and asked him if there was anything he could do for us.

"Looks like you've broken the fly bar."

"Oh," was all I had the ability to say. Because I'm not exactly an expert on fly bars.

"I think we have a few of these--" and he checked the model, pulled up a cardboard box from underneath the counter and began flipping through the plastic bags lined up in the box.

"Here you go," he said, "Do you want me to install it or do you want to put it on yourself?"

At this point I had to stop the man and ask him if he was in any way kidding me--was he really telling me that the part in question could easily be replaced? Just like that?

He looked at me kind of funny and said, "Oh these things break every so often. Sometimes you might break a blade too but other than that these little guys are virtually indestructible."

"Wow. Why don't you put it on for me then?"

At which point he whipped out his mini screwdriver and quickly switched the broken bar for the new one. I took a deep breath and asked with a wince, "So how much is this going to cost?"

He looked at the package and said, "Uh . . . let's see . . . six dollars."

He hadn't even charged me for installation.

So when I walked out to the car with a perfectly restored mini helicopter I was suddenly torn. Spencer had been saved from certain death. Snatched from the jaws of doom just like that and while I was thrilled that his bike money was left in tact and happy for his happiness I wondered if such a reprieve would effectively drive the lesson home?

But when I got in the car, handed the helicopter to David and told the Spencer he'd only lost six dollars Spencer sat there with his mouth hanging open and near-tears of gratitude in his twelve-year old eyes. I decided that maybe it had been the perfect ending to the story.

Let's hope he's learned his lesson.

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Technorati tags: motherhood, parenting, children

49 comments:

Michemily said...

Lovely post. I also hope he's learned his lesson, but those things break. It's just going to happen. Will he be more careful in the future or will he simply say, "It's only six dollars . . ."

Peruby said...

Brought tears to my eyes.

ewe are here said...

I suspect he learned his lesson.

But, wow, how it must have scared him to think he was going to lose all his hard-saved money and then some.

I suspect we're going to have to wonder when/if/how to put a policy like that into action. Obviously, at nearly 2 and 4 they're too young now to 'pay' to fix each others things when they wreck them, although we do tell them they'll have to give up something to the other should that happen...

Motherboard said...

That was a fabulous post! The 6 dollar parable... I wish everything could be this easily fixed...

Parenting is WAY harder than I thought it would be!

chelle said...

Wow. You handled that amazingly. What luck the part cost $6 though, my heart was breaking for both boys!

Jolanthe @ No Ordinary Moments said...

Great post, Michelle. :)

Kacie said...

What a great story, and I'm glad there's a happy ending for everyone!

selena said...

Great Post ! I think he will be careful as learned some lesson.

Jennifer said...

I love that the story had a happy ending!

NorahS said...

Good lesson. Reminds me of a lesson my daughter learned. With a friend's car and a mailbox. On New Year's Eve. She worked and scrimped and saved until she had $300.00 with which to pay restitution. Of course, she had a lot of time on her hands because she was grounded for four weeks. (The one and only time she was ever grounded.) Ah, parenting!

Chris said...

That was a great happy ending!

Stephanie and Co. said...

Sometimes being a good parent is so heartbreaking. You described the dilemmas of rule enforcing so well. Kudos to you for sticking to your rule, and I'm glad it was a happy ending. It brought tears to my eyes as well.

Carrie said...

Oh, my goodness, what a great story! I'm so glad he didn't have to use all his bike money! What a great real-life lesson for him to learn- and a great example of God's mercy & grace in how He provided that cheap part for you! :)

Miche said...

I think he learned his lesson and I'm glad he only had to hand over 6 dollars of his bike money. You have a wonderfu policy in place there-when the boys get a little bigger I think that will be one I copy from you. GREAT idea!

Lei said...

That's a really sweet story! You're a great mother Michelle, teachign your chidlren the value of accoutability!

cndymkr / jean said...

Great post. Doesn't your heart break for both of them? I'm glad this one worked out so well.

carrie from george bell circle said...

What a wonderful story ... Abraham and Isaac, the 12-year-old version.

Carinne gave me your blog address a while back, and I've been enjoying your writing a lot. Thanks!

My Ice Cream Diary said...

I'm so gald it ended happy for Spencer. I was secretly hoping you would get to the end of the story and then say that David had shown mercy over justice and forgiven Spencer without making him use his savings. But this is a good ending too. =)

Laura Moffitt said...

I love that you have instilled that lesson of sorry is only part. I really want to drive that home to my kids, when I have them! :)
I am glad that six dollars did the trick this time around.

Patois said...

Oh, wow, that's beautiful.

Jenni said...

Great story and I'm guessing lesson learned. I would have just driven home the lesson that he was truly lucky it hadn't cost more. But even as adults, there are times when we get a good surprise out of a horrible mistake.

Summer said...

How lucky for him. It does sound like a great ending.

Heather said...

I got all teary!

Storygirl Amelia said...

What a great object lesson for both you and him. Thanks for sharing so we can all learn from it.

Hairline Fracture said...

Oh, I think he learned his lesson--and that things might just turn out better than you feared.

Also, I'm remembering this rule as soon as my kids are a little older (Mr. Blue is too young to earn any money.) I think it is such a good idea to teach them responsibility.

AlaneM said...

Wow that was wonderful & such a great ending!!
That's what we call reality discipline (got the idea from author Kevin Leman) & I love when we have situations in which we can use it.
I'll bet the pain that Spencer experienced for the few days he thought he had lost his hard-earned money might have been enough to bring that lesson home.
Thanks for sharing!

Michele said...

I guess it was tears all around from this post, cause I had them, too. That was a great post. And I do think that Spencer learned his lesson because he was so close to having to give up his hard-earned money. Thanks for sharing.

Darcie - Such The Spot said...

Oh thank goodness it was only a six dollar part. I know how you must have been just aching at the thought of Spencer having to part with his bike money.

I'm tellin' ya. This parenting stuff ain't for the weak of heart.

Karen Olson said...

Good post. Kids have to learn the hard way sometimes, and probably the fear of having to turn over all his hard earned cash was enough to knock some sense into him.

jacjewelry said...

What a great story! Sounds like you've taught him well.

I want that helicopter now too. :)

JENNIFER said...

AHH life :)

Janet said...

I bet he did learn his lesson. He had several days to stew about the fact that he might lose every bit of his bike money and then some. I'll have to keep those rules in mind for the future. There's a reason his nickname is Destructo Boy.

3 Bay B Chicks said...

One of my all-time favorite posts from you was a video on how to escape a duct tape restraint...you even used your kids in the example. I found it hilarious simply because of how original it was.

Today, I come to your site and again, the duct tape is mentioned. Is duct tape capable of fixing the helicopter fly bar? Sadly, it is not. However, it makes me wonder how much of said tape you stock in your home in Alaska. :)

-Francesca

Maddy said...

As you say, better to learn the lesson now that later on with a car!
Cheers

Alice Wills Gold said...

Wow..I don't know if I am proud of you for sticking to your guns and teaching your kids responsibility or utterly joyous that I am not one of your children :) he he

I was so RELIEVED for lucky Spencer. YEAH!!!! It was the perfect ending.

Dave Thurston said...

You should save the link for this and post it in a contest they have at this website (http://tinyurl.com/azy726).

That was brilliant. I can hardly wait for one of my kids to accidentally break something of one of my others.

Kara said...

That was a great post. I could see Spencer's face when the helicopter broke and when he found out the fee to fix it! I think having that rule is fantastic.

An Ordinary Mom said...

I need the number to that Hobby shop ... what a great place!

Anonymous said...

What I liked was the fact that Spencer was going to handle the cost of having the thing fixed. Period. You've instilled good values in your children. Great story. Great lesson. ~Lynn

Jen at Semantically driven said...

I think everyone handled this really well. But isn't it great when you think something's going to be really expensive to fix and it's not. Yay! My son would have loved one of these.

Marivic_Little GrumpyAngel said...

Beautiful post. Often times lessons are best learned with a little pain. But I was so glad for David though that it only cost $6 to fix. I can imagine what an awesome feeling that must have been. Even as an adult I've made mistakes that I thought were irreparable, and when things work out the relief and joy is incomparable.

Cynthia said...

Thanks for sharing that story!

a Tonggu Momma said...

What a lovely post, Michelle. And you are so right... better to learn the lesson now, rather than with a car and perhaps even a life.

MommyTime said...

And THIS is precisely why I admire your parenting so much. That kind of follow-through is really difficult but sooo important. I hope when my two are old enough to be at this point, I am as good as you at sticking to my guns.

charrette said...

Wow - great post, great lesson, and a beautiful metaphor for mercy and grace.

Amber said...

Brought tears to my eyes, too. My son Bode on the other hand? He's sitting on my lap and squealing "HELICOPTER!"

* TONYA * said...

I completely understand how much you were aching to fix the problem for him. Congratulations on standing your ground though. Thank goodness it was only $6 to repair.

Organizing Mommy said...

My son actually saved up his own money to buy one of those. They are very tricky to operate! I think we had that same problem a few times also. Nice that it was only $6.00 to repair. Nice application for life also.

~3 Sides of Crazy~ said...

$6 or $100 isn't the issue. Spencer making it right was. Since he was prepared for the $100, the $6 must have been such a relief that he'll remember for a long time to come.