Fig Leaves

Day 2 of a Series on Social Stories:  Click here to read Day 1, and the Social Story “What is a mistake?”

After reading the social story aloud, Wendy asked us to name some mistakes we had made in the past. The boys didn’t immediately volunteer any.  I mentioned spilling coffee all over the car on Easter.  Wendy reminded them that she had misspelled a word in front of them the week before, a word Zach had to tell her how to spell.  I even lightheartedly offered up one of Zach’s mistakes. “What about when you knocked over a full cup of coffee on the carpet this morning?”

Still, the boys were reluctant to admit to any mistakes.  After a few more assurances that the adults make as many mistakes as the boys do, they were able to come up with a few. Ezra mentioned the time he left Sweetie (his blanket) in Virginia.  Zach remembered that he didn’t put the bee helmet on correctly and got stung.  But none of it was worthy of True Confessions.

Why is it so hard for the boys to admit they made a mistake?

The answer came quickly.  When Wendy asked them how they felt when they made a mistake, Zach didn’t hesitate.  “Ashamed.”

Ashamed?  Of spilling coffee?  Or putting on your helmet incorrectly? My heart broke.  What had we done to make him feel ashamed of making mistakes?

After finishing the list of emotions, Wendy had them act out each emotion in an exaggerated fashion and she took a picture.  Then we talked about what we can do to make a mistake worse, and what we can do to make it better.  It was all great fun, ending with another Social Story about Thomas Edison.

Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about Zach’s feeling of shame.  My baby feels ashamed when he makes a mistake.

On the one hand, this is part of why we are homeschooling.  Last year, Zach spent so much time in school guarding an image of himself where he could do no wrong, that there was no space left to learn anything.

But his declaration was also a reminder of how easy it is to feel shame — think Adam and Eve in the garden.  What was their reaction to eating the forbidden apple?  Was it guilt? Nope.  It was shame.  It wasn’t I did something wrong. It was I am something wrong. And to cover it up, they tried to patch over it with a few fig leaves.

Which were inadequate, and God covered over their sense of shame with a blood sacrifice, killing animals to give them loin cloths.  He didn’t try to talk them out of the feeling; he just took care of it.

But Zach, it seems to me, is still trying desperately to hold up the fig leaves. Assurances that “mistakes are part of Life on Planet Earth” don’t comfort him.   Reminding him that mistakes are a part of learning fall on deaf ears.  Assurances that we and God will forgive him don’t ease his mind.

I don’t think that any number of Social Stories is going to erase all of that.  As I’m sure is obvious from this post, I think the answer is in the divine.  But I am hopeful that playing with the stories – reading them, imagining them, acting them out – will take the heaviness off of the mistakes and make some room for forgiveness, growth, and maybe even a little laughter.

Mistakes are part of Life on Planet Earth.  Given our tendency to hide behind fig leaves, it’s probably a good thing we make so many of them.  Time to get better at making them, responding to them, and putting them behind us.  Without shame.

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