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Meredith Leigh Knight Columnist

Published Friday, October 07, 2011

Lessons learned

Like many moms, I try to look for teaching moments. You know, those relaxed times when you are with your children, and, amidst the fun, an opportunity to teach them a lesson presents itself. Unfortunately, as my son once said, "Mom, your lectures don't work out so well."

One of the most memorable occurred during our trip to Boone, N.C., to visit our favorite uncle, Sonny. Along the way, we spotted a woman hitchhiking, and I decided to seize the moment. I mean, really seize the moment.

"Kids," I said dramatically, "don't ever, ever hitchhike like that woman's doing."

"What's hitchhiking?" my son asked.

"It's where you stick out your thumb and try to get strangers to stop their cars to give you a ride."

"How do you stick out your thumb?"

To which, I demonstrated while warning them, "Don't you ever, ever do that!"

"Yes, ma'am," they said.

Not satisfied, I went into greater detail about how dangerous it was, further driving my point home. It wasn't long after, we arrived at Sonny's house.

"We saw a hitchhiker!" my son said first thing, terrified, yet exhilarated.

"Oh, yeah, we have those all the time up here. In fact ...," he said, pulling out a clear Mason jar, "I picked up a couple a few months back, and they gave me some moonshine!"

"What's moonshine?" my son asked, excitedly.

"Something you should never, ever drink!" I said. "I just gave them a lecture on the dangers of hitchhiking, and now you introduce them to moonshine!"

"I can't wait to tell my teacher about this!" my son exclaimed.

Another time, after my husband swerved to miss a squirrel, I gave a long lecture about how we sometimes have to hit animals when they run across the road. I told them the story about how when I was 16 and riding in the backseat of my friend's car (without my seat belt -- another lesson), she swerved to miss a dog, and we ended up in a ditch. My kids once said all my stories end up in a ditch, by the way, and this was no exception.

"So, sometimes you have to hit the animal," I repeated, when, lo and behold, a beautiful white cat ran out in front of our car.

What did I do? If you guessed yelled, "Don't hit it; don't hit it! Swerve!" at the top of my lungs, you'd be correct.

"Mom! I thought you said not to swerve for animals!"

"Well, that was a pretty cat!" I said, ruining my driver's safety lesson.

My most recent example of a good lesson gone bad happened just this past weekend while the kids and I were out for a walk. My daughter spotted something in the grass.

"Look! Are those mushrooms? They are huge!" she said. "Let's go look at them."

"No," I said, seizing the moment to teach. "They might be poisonous. You know you should never eat or touch wild mushrooms. But, you can go look at it."

"No, that's OK," said my daughter, sufficiently frightened.

I should have let it go then, but curiosity seized me, and I said, "Ah, come on. Let's have a look. It won't hurt us to look."

The closer we got, the stranger it looked, until finally I gave it a kick.

Poof! Black ashes flew into the air, and I being the sensible mom, screamed and ran and bemoaned the fact that I would now have to wash my tennis shoes.

"Mom, mom, mom," my son said, tears of laughter rolling down his face.

"I told you not to ever mess with mushrooms!" I said.

They, of course, laughed. And it was then that it occurred to me, my lessons may be unorthodox, but they can't say they didn't remember them, or that I didn't try.

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