The lion, the cow, and a lesson in resilience

Once upon a time, I missed the parenting memo.

The one that said kids know what they want. Until the moment that they don’t. The one that explains the fine nuances of raising children, and how sometimes parents need to stop struggling and start being flexible to create win/win situations.

When my kids were little, they were going to be cows for Halloween one year. That is, until Halloween morning arrived.

Halloween was a concept that I was sure my son understood at the ripe old age of about not-yet-three.

One thing I learned about kids is the importance of stepping back and seeing things from their point of view, too.

We loved reading "Cows In The Kitchen" by June Crebben, giggling and mooing and having fun together. The catchy rhythm and fun pictures were so engaging.

I thought we were on the same page when I explained what Halloween was about.

We talked about what animal they wanted to be for Halloween, and they chose to be cows. Cool. I could handle cow costumes.

This perfectionist momma planned the cutest, coziest cow costumes for my little crew of two. Off I went to shop for what I needed, while my husband reminded me that kids could be fickle. Not my babies!

With two kids nearly 15 months apart, sleep was a distant memory. I happily stayed up late into the night and created two adorable little costumes (if I say so myself).

They fit! The kids loved them! I loved them!

So what if my daughter was swimming in her costume, and we could hardly see her face, and the sleeves ended somewhere around her knees...These kiddos were so darned cute that I didn’t even care. I loved that they were happy and excited about their costumes, and for one of the few times in my life, I didn’t get crazy with critiquing my work.

Tucking the kids into bed the night before our Halloween party and parade, we sang every song about cows that we could think of, and made up a few for good measure. They couldn’t wait to put on their cow costumes.  

Then morning came, and we had a little glitch.

My little guy woke up and cheerily announced he was going to be a lion for Halloween.

Um. Lion?

In the nicest way possible, I reminded him about the cow plan. He shook his head adamantly. I showed him the costume.

Nope, no way, no how. He wanted to be a lion.

We ate breakfast together, and I figured that he’d forget. (If you have kids of your own, you are probably laughing at my naivete, right?)

When it was time to put on the cow costumes, he refused and went straight into a major meltdown.

Now what? There was no lion costume. Where did he get that silly idea from? There was no reasoning with him.

His sister was so excited to get into her costume (although you can’t see this from the picture, but I swear it’s the truth). Reasoning with a Terrible Two doesn’t generally end well, so I focused on my daughter and wondered how to wrestle him into the costume without losing my sanity…

Why isn’t parenting as easy as it looks? Where’s the handbook? How do you raise well-adjusted kids who go with the flow, yet have their own opinions and voice?

Well, I don’t know if he truly NEEDED to be a lion on this particular day, but he sure thought he did. And I knew that I needed to step up into the mom role fully, without caving, while empowering him at the same time. Although, I honestly wanted to stuff him into his costume and be done with the drama.

In a flash of parenting brilliance (or maybe just pulling tricks from my sleeve), I had the kind of rational conversation that moms sometimes have... 

Me: Honey, look. You wanted to be a cow. We have these great cow costumes that I made for you and your sister. They’re perfect, and just what we talked about.

Son (crying): No cow! No cow! Lion!

Me: You can be a lion on a different day.

Son: Lion!

Me (sweating a bit): Hey, how about if you are a lion, dressed up as a cow?

Son: But I want to be a lion.

Me: Hey, how about a tricky lion, and trick everyone into thinking that you are a cow! How much fun would that be?!

Son (thinking, breaking into a smile): Okay!

And so, here’s the picture of one Lion Dressed Up As A Cow, and one Cow. Parenting win!

Sure, I could have ditched the costume, and grabbed some eyeliner to draw on lion whiskers. Maybe that would have been my Plan B to save the day.

I could have hollered until he put on the cow costume and everyone ended up miserable and in tears.

Coming up with a plan to make both of us happy, and for his little sister to match her brother which she was excited about, got me thinking about how everyone could win.

Halloween is about illusion, pretending, disguising, and dressing up as something or someone different. So if a child could dress up as a cow, why not dress up as a lion who would then disguise himself as a cow?

We laugh about this story at our home, but it turns out there really was a message here that I carried into my parenting as the kids grew up. Kids can and will change their minds at the most inconvenient moments. The Lion Dressed Up As A Cow became a metaphor for how I raised my children to be empowered, creative problem solvers when dealing with life’s challenges. Being flexible is key.

My daughter learned a lesson in flexibility and resilience while she was on a competitive dance team in middle school. A serious knee injury forced her to stop dancing, and she was heartbroken.

At school, many of her friends were trying out for the school play. She was encouraged to try out, and did since she wasn’t able to dance that season.

She was excited to land the part of Amaryllis in Music Man, Jr. The director accommodated her PT schedule, made some adjustments to the moves, and she had a blast. All because the original dance competition plan didn’t work out.

Life is life. Kids don’t always get what they want, nor should they. Bending over backwards to protect them from feeling frustrated doesn’t help them learn to be adaptable or flexible. These are hugely important life skills. We can support our children as they come up with new ideas and ways to explore life themselves.

I’d love to know, how have you helped your children develop resilience by turning  disappointment into success?