The Lesson I Never Thought I’d Have To Teach My Son

It never occurred to me in a million years that I’d have to deal with this issue. Not with MY kid.

Everything started out innocently enough: he was invited to a big party. The house was practically full of his friends, all his age. It was just your typical, run-of-the-mill birthday party. The mood was festive but not over the top; all of the party attendees were on their best behavior.

Well, they were on their best behavior at first, until the stimulants made their appearance, thanks to one of the guests. In fact, that guest was a little overzealous about it and in an instant, almost everything ended up on the floor. Everyone–except for D, that is–scrambled to get their hands on as much as they could, and that’s really when it all went south.

D stood there wide-eyed and almost in disbelief about what he was seeing, not knowing what to do. There wasn’t any peer pressure for him to join in, because none of his friends wanted to share their windfall.

And so, as everyone around him got whipped up into a frenzy and forgot that he was even there, D just…cried.

Of course I’m talking about D’s first piñata experience. (What did you think I was talking about??)

He was four at the time, and this was his initiation into the world of birthday party piñatas. The kid who put the fatal beating on the paper mache’ candy vessel, causing it to spill its contents, ripped off his blindfold in a fraction of a second and dove in with the rest of the kids as they filled their pockets with individually-wrapped, sugared treats. I watched it happen from my chair in the corner of the room, assuming that D would know to get in there, though after it happened I couldn’t believe that I had made that false assumption.

D looked at me through his tears and I pointed towards the lump of squirmy children on the floor who were throwing elbows and pushing each other to grab the goodies. “Get in there,” I whispered, “get in there and grab some candy!”

He wouldn’t do it. Not only was it a highly overwhelming situation for a four-year-old who had never seen such an occurrence before, but it also went against everything we had taught him so far about manners and how to treat others. As I watched him follow the birthday girl’s mother into the kitchen (she had some extra candy to give to him), I wondered how I was going to explain to my gentle-hearted son who was already concerned about good manners at the age of four that it IS okay to act a little like a barbarian when it comes to a piñata.

After the party, we talked about it. I explained that the piñata was a party game, and even though it was a good idea to be careful–we don’t want to intentionally hurt someone in order to get some candy–it was okay in that moment to be a little aggressive. Of course, I reminded him that most of his friends used good manners in “normal” situations like he did, but they knew that under these circumstances, being a little grabby was fine. That was a difficult concept to explain, and I don’t know if I could do a better job explaining it to another four year old today, even after fifteen more years of parenting under my belt.

It wasn’t long before the next party invitation came home in his preschool backpack. “Great,” I thought. “Refresher course!”

On the way to his friend’s house I prepared him for the chance that there might be a piñata at this party too, and told him that it was part of the game to get in there and get a few pieces of candy.

He didn’t do it.

He didn’t do it at the next one, either. He had no problem standing to the side (tear-free after that first time), just watching the chaos.

In fact, it took many more parties before he was able to bring himself to participate when the piñata fell to pieces, and when he did he was still very respectful of others and only took the candy that was within his reach before backing up out of the fray. Predictably, after he did it once he asked if I could buy a piñata for his own upcoming birthday party.

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, the whole episode told me so much about the type of person he would become, partly due to the personality with which he was born and partly due to his upbringing. His quiet nature dominated in group situations. He was social but not overly rambunctious. He was always concerned for the well-being of those around him, and didn’t often put himself into situations where the possibility for injury existed. When my friends’ sons seemed to get more and more rowdy (I’m not talking about a “bad” kind of rowdy, just a “boyish” kind of rowdy), mine didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t mind. It was nice to have a son who was a little more on the subdued side even though I worried sometimes that life would try to trample him as he did his best to politely step to the side and out of the way.

In the end, what happened was that my gentle and sensitive boy grew into a gentle and sensitive young man. He has always had small circles of close friends rather than large numbers of acquaintances. He is still quiet by nature, but displays his own style of rowdy when he feels most at ease, among his family and friends. Most of all, he realizes that you don’t always have to make the most commotion in order to get what you want in life: he approaches his goals with deep thought, consideration for others, and some good strategies, strategies that work for him.

The piñata episode proves that you never know when a teachable moment will present itself and become a real life lesson, and that it doesn’t matter if your child deals with situations differently from the majority. What’s important is that we as parents are there to give them the tools they need in order to succeed in their own way, on their own schedule.


    • Melisa

      One of my friends (Lisa, see her comment below) had asked me a question about having a quiet son, and I remembered that I had always wanted to share this pinata story!

      (and I know it didn’t head in the direction you thought it would: I’m a master at words! haha)

  • Lisa @ Oh Boy Oh Boy Oh Boy

    OMG, you couldn’t have come up with a better example. My boys are now after MANY MANY partied ready to carefully jump in to the fray to get some of the good when the pinata lets lose. But my FAVORITE part is when they fill their hands/bag or whatever…they undoubtly stand up, look around and make sure that they haven’t left anyone with noticably less than they have. They will often take note of those who were afraid to jump in and share with them without prompting.
    Thanks for this post this morning. After last night, I needed the chance to reflect on just one of the many ways my boys are turning out pretty alright! (going to go get a kleenex now…must be that time of the month) 😉

    • Melisa

      I’m so glad, Lisa! I’ve been wanting to write about this story for ages, and thought of it immediately when we were on FB the other day. Glad it helped! 🙂

  • Heather

    I could totally see this when I met him this summer- he was quiet by by the end of the night we were joking like we’d known each other forever. I enjoyed my time with him because he didn’t act like your typical douchey teen/college student & he was genuinely nice & cool to be around!

    I hated pinatas as a kid. SO MUCH.

  • tracey

    My kids are definitely IN the midst of the candy, grabbing all they can, but know that they have to give up a lot to the littler ones who couldn’t get any. We like to shove some in a corner for the littlest and claim that it must have gotten missed…

    • Melisa

      I love that, Tracey! That’s a sweet way to do it. I’m sure your kids feel really good about sharing, especially when those sweet little ones get all excited!

  • KYouell

    That’s beautiful. I’m struck, as I often am, at how things that might be thought of as only lessons that moms of kids with special needs have to teach (and learn) are really lessons that all moms must deal with. With my son I would be thinking he wasn’t included and did know how to include himself, blah blah blah. It could be true of any kid! Thanks for the reminder.

  • Flawless Mom

    This is crazy because I just had this conversation with my mom TODAY!!!!! Today, I shit you not. I told her that I wouldn’t change it for the world, but G’s incredibly kind soul makes me worry that he’ll get trampled emotionally by other people. She said, “you can’t change his nature.” And I wouldn’t want to. I just worry. I also kvell. A lot. Oh, soccer clinic? Forget it. He refused to kick the ball away from anyone. I worry for Russ that his son might not play football. 😉

    • Melisa

      No wonder I was thinking of G! I must be psychic.

      And the football thing? Could go either way. You’d better prepare Russ, just in case. D did the same thing in soccer clinic. 🙂 Then he grew up and started playing lacrosse as a high school sophomore (NO SPORTS between the age of 8 and 15! He didn’t wanna!) and started as a midfielder but wasn’t NEARLY as aggressive as the coaches needed him to be, so he became a goalie. (and excelled at that position!)

  • Grandma W

    Great article, I love to be reminded of these stories. Have you ever thought about writting a book????? Ha Ha — That may be your next project, a book of stories on how you taught and learned at the same time through your life experiances.

    People usually get how they are going to act from their roots as far as you can go back. Most of the time that is a good thing.

    • Melisa

      I definitely discovered, after writing this, that it seems as though there are just as many “quiet” little boys as “louder” ones. 🙂

  • Toni

    I just love how you wrote this story…totally from a proud, caring mother’s point of view 🙂 For the first 10 birthdays, we always had a pinata for our son…never mind the one I turned into an “army guy” but really ended up looking like a drag queen. Anyway…I always just thought it was an easy, cheap way to have a “game” and all ages were happy. What I quickly found, was that MANY of the kids were stand-offish…I guess they were all smart enough to not dive head first into a hungry pack of wolves. One year, the kids sat there for an HOUR (I kid you not) and picked through all the candy…each taking ONLY the pieces they liked. LOL We couldn’t believe it. Congrats on raising such a wonderful young man. 🙂

  • Johanna Cook

    What a great post! I had tears in my eyes. It’s so nice to hear stories from more experienced moms. My kids are 10, 5, and 2, so I am seeing their personalities (good and bad); and am just trying my best to teach them great values and beliefs. I hope they grow up to be kind, loving, strong-willed people…

  • Maureen @ Wisconsin Mommy

    We experienced something similar when we took LJ to his first 4th of July parade. The participants came by and began throwing candy and all the kids rushed into the road to pick it up. LJ didn’t want any part of the scramble either.

    We did a piñata one year for a b-day party and the teacher in me couldn’t stand the idea of a few kids getting all of the loot so I made goodie bags that fell out and each kid got one.

  • Tiaras & Tantrums

    This was really a lovely post to read.I only have one child who would dive in and get candy, but she wouldn’t shove anyone out of the way to do it. My son(SPD) and my little one would never get in there. I always just thought my little one was way to shy, super sensitive and way way way too shy! (my brother came over yesterday and little one was hanging on my leg – as usually – and he states – ‘cripes she’s still doing that’ I wanted to smack him!)

    • Melisa

      Oh gosh. Maybe you should have! haha
      (Sometimes people can’t help themselves and can’t keep their mouths shut. It’s a shame!)

      It was good to see you today!