It was quite possibly the most impressive teachable moment I’ve ever witnessed. And even though I had a part in it coming to pass, I can’t take credit for the teaching moment itself. The credit belongs to The Wife.
As I write this story a day later, I’m looking back on what had happened and how The Wife handled the situation. It was so simple yet so brilliant. Guess that’s what has made her so good at her job in education for the last thirty years: always finding those opportunities to teach that others never notice. I sure didn’t see it. Even though I held it right in my hands, I tossed the opportunity away.
The answer to my question “Don’t you have enough Barbies?” was a resounding, “No, Papa!” And that’s how our now eight-year-old granddaughter, Little One, got a new Sports Barbie last week for her birthday.
Since then, the very bendy Barbie had been twisted in every which way imaginable. That is, until last night just before dinner, Sports Barbie was bent a little too far. The cry came immediately after the snap heard around the world.
Okay, perhaps it wasn’t that loud, but I heard it — and the cry for help — all the way into the kitchen. “Papa, her leg just broke off!”
Walking into the kitchen, Little One held Sports Barbie in one hand and her leg in the other. Tears puddled in her eyes as she asked if there were anything I could do to fix her.
A quick medical exam showed Barbie’s leg was broken off at the knee joint, leaving a sharp jagged edge on both ends. Sadly, even Big Papa here can’t glue back a plastic joint.
After a hug I replied, “Sorry, she’s broken and can’t be fixed. See these sharp edges? We need to throw her away.” As she slowly placed the broken Barbie into the trashcan, I added, “Perhaps don’t bend the bendable Barbie so much next time?” along with a promise that if she were good, maybe the nice folks in those trucks with the little blue smile on the side would stop by and bring her another one.
After all, they already knew where we live. They seem to stop by our house for some sort of delivery almost every day. With that happy thought, she skipped back into the other room and started playing with dinosaurs and army men. And that’s when The Wife got home, and the real teaching began.
While walking through the living room, The Wife received hello hugs and kisses from the girls and asked how their day was. I once again heard the sad story of bendable Sports Barbie acted out. I was enjoying the reenactment, right up to the point where Little One said, “And then, Big Papa said throw her in the trash.”
The Wife came into the kitchen, explained her plan, and I immediately did two things. First, I went to the tool room returning with a roll of camouflage duct tape. Second, I retrieved the broken bendable Barbie and leg from the trash, then followed her back into where the Girly Girls were still playing with their other Barbies and a wide assortment of Army dolls.
The Wife went into teacher mode, “Girls, we don’t throw away things just because they’re broken.”
In unison the girls replied, “But, Big Papa said…” I interrupted them to announce that I was wrong. They sat stunned.
The Wife continued, “She can be repaired.”
“But Big Papa said …” I interrupted them again to announce again that I was wrong. Big Papa admitting he was wrong was rare, but twice in one day? That had never happened. They were speechless at this proclamation.
As I tore off pieces of the camouflage duct tape and went to work reattaching the broken limb, The Wife explained. “Bendable Barbie was in a very bad accident, and she lost her leg. Papa was right, it can’t be reattached like it was, but she can have a prosthetic leg instead. She will be as good as new when Papa gets through with the surgery.”
During the leg taping surgery, the girls asked question after question after question. “What’s a prosthetic?” “Will she ever walk again?” “Does she need crutches?” “Can we buy her a wheelchair?” “She can’t play soccer anymore, can she?” And my favorite, “Will she need to go to physical therapy to get better like Big Papa?”
Throughout dinner and bath time, the not-so-broken bendable Barbie was the main topic of conversation. First, we discussed how she was using a crutch to get around the living room, and by bedtime, she had already gone to Cheryl, the best physical therapist in the world, for two months and now feels much better.
This morning, our better bendable Barbie is now dressed in camouflage from head to toe and has qualified for the Paralympics in soccer, basketball, and swimming! But she’s not stopping there, after the Paralympics, our astronaut bendable Barbie will be the first woman on Mars.
And to think I had thrown her out because she was broken. I couldn’t see past her injury, the loss of a vital limb, to see how she could be of any good. Now, instead of being the worst doll, she is the Barbie our girls want to play with the most.
All it took was educating them how to see past a disability and then framing it in a different way. It has been a teachable moment even their Big Papa will never forget. And if I know our Girly Girls, I better buy more duct tape, because I see more broken toys in our future.
[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]