Explaining Irony to a Child

Recently my daughter asked me one of those head scratching kid questions.  “Mom, what is irony?”

I don’t know about you, but ever since Ms. Morissette released her hit single “Ironic” I have had a hard time explaining the difference between bad luck and irony.  Rain on your wedding day?  Not ironic.  Behold, last night provided me with the answer to the wee Afthead’s question.

Upon realizing that she had a cut on her foot –  that didn’t hurt at all until she saw it – little Afthead went to get the box of first aid supplies.  This was unusually independent of her.  Normally wounds require drama and snuggling and mommy’s attention.  However, as the wee child got her stool and reached up to the top shelf of the linen closet tragedy occurred.  A can of pain relieving spray tumbled down bonking her on the head.  I came running when I heard the clatter, but before the tears could start I assessed the situation and exclaimed, “This, this is ironic!  Remember when you asked mommy what irony was and I couldn’t explain?  You getting bonked on the head by pain spray is ironic.”

Amazingly the definition was enough to stop the tears and launch us into a conversation about other ironic first aid situations.  Getting a paper cut opening a band aid.  Getting an infection from a germ on the outside of the antibacterial spray.  Apparently irony is best explained in terms of band-aids and boo-boos.

My parenting mantra?  Sit on your hands.

If you could hear inside my head you would hear the mantra repeated over and over.

Sit on your hands.  She’s doing fine.

Sit on your hands.  You already know how to sew.

Sit on your hands.  She is feeding herself and who cares if there is applesauce in her eyebrows?

It takes literal physical restraint for me to let my daughter do it herself sometimes. I see her struggling and I just want to reach out and help her, to get her past the hard part, to do it for her, but I don’t.  My hands start to move from my side toward her and I stop them.  It is the hardest, most important parenting lesson I teach myself over and over: she will only learn to do it for herself if I stay out of her way.


Friday night she decided she wanted to learn how to knit, again.  This will be the third time I have taught her.  Each time I have knit to show her, then sat behind her and knit with her hands over mine, then sat on my hands and let her knit, and by knit I mean drop stitches, make stitches with an accidental yarn over, created twisted stitches, knit the same stitch twice and finally give up in frustration.  So we put the knitting away for another time.

This time we started the same way, but at the end of the night when she had eight stitches, instead of the twelve I cast on, and a couple of large holes in her work, she didn’t get frustrated.  She just said, “That’s okay.  This one is just practice.”

Then she put her work down, kissed it, and said “I’ll see you in the morning knitting!”

I didn’t pick it up for her.  I did not go back and fix the mistakes.  I walked past the five rows on her needles and saw what I might be able to teach her to make her work better but I did not do it for her.  I sat on my hands, because I already know how to knit.

Saturday she picked it up again.  Now she has three holes and fifteen stitches, but five inches of something that looks like knitting.  She’s so proud.  She wants to take it to our friend’s house today, because that mom is a knitter too, and she wants to show off.


We hauled out my first knitting project, a lovely burnt orange…thing, and looked at my holes and my wonky first attempts next to hers and talked about why they were different and how they were the same.  As she watches me finish my first adult size sweater she understands that I started, twelve years ago, with something that looks just like what she’s making now.

“Mom, you’ve only been knitting for twelve years.  If I start now, imagine how good I’ll be when I’m your age!”

It’s true, but she’ll only get that good if she does it for herself and I keep sitting on my hands.