Translated from Miyaji, N., Mother is Born, Fukuinkan Shoten Publishers 2016
It's good to talk to your children. We say that, but sometimes it's hard to find a topic.
In those moments, my children really seem to enjoy my stories from my own childhood. Not stories about my "glory days," but about silly moments that I laugh about now. Not only do they enjoy the stories, they also seem to leave a lasting impression on them. One of them mentioned, "Remember how you told me that one time you bit into an eraser when you were a kid?" That was a few years after I first told them the story.
I told my kids that when I was in elementary school, I had an eraser that had a fruity smell. It smelled so good that one day, I couldn't resist the urge to bite into it. They asked, "So? Did it taste good?" To which I responded, "No, it tasted horrible!" I remember all of us giggling at the idea of me biting into an eraser. However, I hadn't anticipated that they would remember that story for years to come.
I have also told my kids about the time when I tried to warm up my wet gloves by putting them beside the radiator. I left them there for too long, and accidentally burned the tip of one of the fingers. This story also has a similar follow-up story from my college years. I went on a ski trip, and in an effort to dry my damp down jacket, I put it on a shelf next to the heater. Sometime later, the room was suddenly filled with down flying about. It was too late by the time I started wondering what was causing it, and there was already a hole in the part that was closest to the radiator. Back then, down jackets were very fashionable, and so I had worked really hard at my part-time job to save up for it. It was an expensive buy, and I had just bought it before the trip. It was disappointing to say the least. Even though it didn't match the stylish design of the jacket, I covered the hole using a patch and had to keep wearing the jacket because I had spent so much money on it. When I said, "It was devastating!" my kids laughed harder and asked for more stories of my past mishaps.
I wonder why these stories of old mishaps entertain my kids so much. Maybe it is a reminder that us adults also had our own childhood and they feel like they can relate to us better. Or maybe it's that children often get scolded for making their own mistakes, and hearing about their own parents also making mistakes during their childhood is comforting. Or at the end of the day, maybe it's because it's just funny to hear about other people's blunders.
I haven't thought that deeply about sharing stories of my past mistakes. There was a time when I worried that doing so might hurt my sense of authority as a parent, but now I'm glad that I told them all those stories. In life, I believe that having the ability to laugh at our own mistakes is crucial.
Taking our mistakes and packaging them into jokes is often a difficult task. In order to laugh at our own mistakes, we need to create distance from our past self and sense of embarrassment. To be able to do that, you need practice and see someone else do it first. I hope that by joking about my own past mistakes, I've shown my children how to not take ourselves too seriously. By talking about our past mishaps and having other people laugh about it, we can also overcome them and make them into seeds for growth. By doing so, we might also gently remind the other person of their own mistakes, letting them know that we all have embarrassing stories from our past, and foster deeper connections that way.