Family Life: Lost wallet, cracked iPad, broken heart

Family Life: Lost wallet, cracked iPad, broken heart

January 8th, 2017 by Mark Kennedy in Opinion Columns

Don't cry over spilled milk or broken iPads.

Photo by Mark Kennedy /Times Free Press.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Among our jobs as parents is to teach our kids how to manage disappointment. Or, as the "serenity prayer" says: To be granted the power to accept the things we cannot change and the courage to change the things we can.

I'm not sure

that the serenity prayer's author, American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, had cracked iPads in mind when he wrote this. But the principle applies. After all, a cracked iPad is the 21st-century equivalent of spilled milk — it's not to be cried over.

My 10-year-old son recently had a string of bad luck. First he lost his wallet, which contained about $100 in Christmas cash. Then, the day after New Year's, he woke up to the troubling news that his 15-year-old brother had accidentally cracked his iPad.

The one-two punch put him over the edge, and I suddenly found myself trying to console a weeping 10-year-old. He wasn't exactly sobbing, but every time he closed his eyes a single tear would trail down his right cheek, which created the illusion of raindrops dripping from his bangs. To a parent, this is the worst. It means the crying is not hysterical, but that it comes from a place of honest sadness.

My first instinct was to encourage my son to suck it up. After all, he had clearly misplaced his billfold and left his iPad in a vulnerable place. When his brother grabbed a throw blanket, the iPad came flipping out and landed corner-first on a wood floor.

Oops.

Then, as often happens when I become sanctimonious, I had a little talk with myself. "What if I had lost my life savings and totaled my car in a 72-hour period?" I thought. "Would I appreciate being told to get over it? Probably not."

No, my son had a right to his moment of sorrow, and I told him so.

"Buddy, take as long as you like," I said, "and when you feel better we'll see what we can do."

In the middle of our talk, my phone chimed. I looked down and discovered it was my sister, calling my attention to a text just sent to her by my older son. "He told me what happened and asked if he could buy my old iPad (to give his little brother)," she texted. "What a good big brother."

This is the sister whose motto is: It's not a real problem if money can fix it. This sounds cavalier unless you think it through. It basically means to save your anguish for issues of the heart, not just material things. It's the serenity prayer shrunken down to pocket-size.

Eventually, like most middle-class families, we tried to work things out for my younger son. I gave him $65, fearing that making him whole financially would discourage him from keeping a closer eye on his billfold. I also worked out a cost-sharing plan to replace his old, broken iPad with a newer one. Later, though, his aunt simply gave him her old tablet computer.

This seemed to snap him out of his funk while leaving just enough sting for character building. Maybe next time he will look after his billfold and put away his electronics more carefully, I thought.

It also reminded me that growing up is a softer existence for middle-class kids than for kids in families of lesser means. For lots of kids, a loss is a loss. A stolen bike is a stolen bike. They have no choice but to suck it up and deal.

Then I considered my older son, who showed responsibility and empathy in offering to replace his brother's broken iPad. Responsibility and empathy are also character traits worth cultivating, I decided.

At the end of the day, we all change the things we can and we accept the things we can't, don't we?

The common denominator is prayer.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645.

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