Like many dads, I’m always on the lookout for fun, creative ways to bond with my kids something I rarely experienced with my own father. However, this particular “great idea” backfired big time.
I had just dropped off my wife Jean at the Denver airport and was returning home with the boys when a stroke of inspiration struck me like a freight train. Come to think of it, a southbound train adjacent to the interstate sparked the idea.
Noticing the massive string of railroad cars rumbling towards Colorado Springs on our right, I said, “Hey guys, why don’t we get ahead of that train, put some pennies on the track, and watch them get flattened?” Cheers erupted from the back seat.
Trent is our resident scientist. He loves to understand how things work. Glancing in the rearview mirror, I could see he was studying the pace of the locomotive as it pulled a few hundred cars in its wake.
I was pretty sure Trent was processing a host of questions like “How flat would the penny get?” or, “Would we still be able to see the face on the penny after it was smashed?”
We outran the train and, having reached a safe distance, we crossed over the tracks onto a dirt access road. The boys eagerly placed several pennies on the track before retreating to wait by the car. Minutes later, the train sped by . . . car after car thundered past us as we guessed the fate of those pennies.
Without warning, the brakes screeched as the train came to a stop. We were trapped between the tracks and some private land on the west side. There was no where to go and nothing to do but wait. And wait. And wait some more. The minutes turned into an hour. The kids were hungry and growing impatient. Trent began to cry. His younger brother Troy wondered if he should, too.
Frankly, I wasn’t exactly pleased with how things were shaping up. I called the emergency number posted on the crossing sign. I was told they were making every effort to get the train moving again . . . which they did after two hours. After making the call, one of the boys blurted out, “Dad, this is the ‘stupidest’ thing you’ve ever done.”
Set aside, for a moment, the fact that this was the first time I’d heard him use the word “stupidest.” His pronouncement stung. My heart was in the right place . . . how was I to know the train would decide to call a siesta right in front of us? As for the use of the word “stupidest,” I had to consider what parental discipline was called for . . . perhaps a time out? Then again, we were all sitting in time out. Nix that. What about hot sauce on the tongue? A spanking? A grounding when we got home?
All of the above?
It occurred to me that what they needed most in that moment was a loving embrace, a patient response, and a demonstration that we’d be “okay” in spite of our circumstances. You know, when life deals you lemons, make lemonade. Noticing a nearby pond, I decided to pass the time skipping rocks with the boys and talk things out.
There’s a time for discipline when children speak harshly, no question. But there’s also time to shepherd their hearts in an understanding way.
How would you have handled things?