Making mistakes

Sometimes I wonder if there is something wrong with my boy. But maybe it’s just that he’s 10-years old.

I sort of remember being told I was absentminded when I was in 4th grade. But I don’t remember it being as bad as he is. Of course, I wasn’t the parent.

Unconsciously, reflexively, things within his grasp are moved. No executive function was accessed and a Rubik’s cube winds up in my bed. Why do I only have one slipper? Anyone have any ideas where we might find the remote? Please get that toy out of your mouth.

At breakfast this morning, Emmett was putting the container of cereal into the garbage, instead of the pantry, when he caught himself.


Hilarious, because he jokes about it too.  He was laughing as he came back to the table, “Can you believe I almost threw away the cereal?”

We fell asleep last night after laughing and listening to a Brian Regan stand-up comedy special on YouTube. The way Emmett said, “Can you believe I almost threw away the cereal?” had inflections of an observational humor comedian. One with a soprano voice.

But, he isn’t just goofy. His absentmindedness is paired with brilliant insights, genius recognition of patterns, and adult level conversations.

We had a talk about mistakes on the walk to school today. It seems mistakes were to be the day’s theme.

While we are walking, I was checking his math homework. (Don’t judge; it’s just when he got to asking me to check it.) The worksheet was filled with hard word problems. I started to explain where he mis-added a series of mixed-number fractions when he corrected me. “Look, Da-da,” he said, “it says, ‘on Tuesday the snow melted.’” So ½ inch had to be subtracted from the already accumulated inches. I misread it. He was right. We laughed, I apologized and went back – more cautiously – to checking his work.

He got the next two right. The last problem was a 6-step word problem that required multiplication, multi-digit addition and finally subtracting of the arrived at sum of $38.47 from $100. He got all of it right, except in the first step he made a careless mistake. He totaled three $3.97’s to be $11.94 instead of $11.91. Consequently, the answer he got at the end was wrong.

I could see that he understood the entire problem. He just made a misstep. We stopped so he could use the top of a garbage can as a desk and correct his calculations.

When we resumed walking, we talked some about mistakes. Here was some of our thinking:

Does it matter if you get steps 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 right, if you got step 1 wrong?

  • Of course it does. Learning isn’t just a matter of right and wrong, it’s a series of rights and wrongs. One wrong oughtn’t cancel out all the rights.

Is there a difference if an oversight happens at step 1 or step 6?

  • We thought there isn’t. But, we also thought they felt different. We didn’t know which one felt worse.

If you are going to get it wrong because you will eventually make a mistake along the way, should you even try?

  • Yes you should try. You can’t get any parts right without trying.

We were about a block from school when Emmett and my conversation sizzled out.

Annie, age 8, had been a few paces ahead of us walking the dog, doing her own thing.

Emmett and I tuned into hear her happily sing-songing: “Emmett got it w-ro-ng. Emmett got it w-ro-ng. Emmett got it w-ro-ng.”

He refrained from making the mistake of engaging her.

Good job, my boy.

With love,

Rabbi Brian


I continue to wonder now that I’m home:

  • Aren’t most mistakes unintentional?
    Aren’t all?
  • Why do we blame someone when they make a mistake?
    How does that help?
  • If learning from our mistakes is the best way of learning, why do I work so hard not to make mistakes?
  • Does it matter if the mistake causes harm?
    Is blame warranted then?

Please post your thoughts to my FB page.

Here are some other thoughts that I have about mistakes:

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