#2 was playing at the dinner table. She wasn’t out of control, but was waving her arms around in a way that typically leads to spilling something. Tonight was typical. #2 knocked over her cup, spilling the remaining Fresca across the table.
A plaintive “Sorry” escaped her lips before the Mother barked at her (I was washing dishes, so the task of disciplining fell on the Mother, who was a bit over zealous because she was tired at the end of a hard day). #2 crumpled. #1 tried to comfort her. The Mother retrieved some paper towels, dried up the Fresca, and returned to her dinner.
From my vantage point at the sink, I found the scene poignant. #2 had screwed up. Had I been at the table I would have scolded her, more to get her to pay attention than because of any real harm done—seriously, 3-oz of Fresca on a table is no big deal. #2’s reaction, however, suggested that the lesson imparted by my disciplining is easily understood very differently from what I intend. The celerity of reprimand, the chosen idiom, my tone, my mien all communicate a message. Standing at the sink observing it unfold, I realized how easy it is for communication to go horribly wrong.
I do not regret disciplining #1 or #2. I regret that the form of that disciplining distorts the lesson I had hoped to convey.
Note to self: Lesson taught, unfortunately, is not lesson learned.