My daughter threw her peas at me across the dinner table. “I will not eat these peas, even if you say please, because they are gross!” she exclaimed while sliding her bowl toward me as well. Though I was mildly impressed at her rhyming skills, I was not having it. I quickly reminded her that as the leader of the home and the ones who prepared the meal, her papa and I would really appreciate it if she would at least try the tiny green vegetables she so despised.

“No!” she returned. “You are not the leader of this home. I am!”

That’s when I saw, as I’ve often heard other moms say, my opportunity for a teachable moment. I took a deep breath and scooted my chair closer to hers. I explained that our home and everything in it cost money and that as the purchasers of the property, we were, in fact, the leaders of it. I reminded her that when we go to the grocery store or the mall, we always bring our items to the cashier so we can check out and pay for them before heading home.

When she asked why (as I anticipated she would), I simply explained that we didn’t own those things until we paid money for them and that once we did, they were ours. “Remember when you took your birthday money to the toy store and bought that talking cat?” I reminded her. She nodded and I explained that the cat was now hers to take care of.

“I do, mama!” she responded. “I brush its fur and I give it little kitty food and I tuck it into its bed every night.” I could tell those little wheels were turning and I hoped she was getting at least half of the concept I was trying to convey. I tucked her bangs behind her ears and said, “exactly.”

You see, I explained, we take care of the things that are important to us. Whether we buy them (like our home and the kitty) or we help make them ourselves (like our children), if we had to go through a process to get them or give something up in return, those items instantly have intrinsic value. I explained that her papa and I put all of our money in the bank toward our home and spent two years working on it. I told her about long nights ripping up old carpet and wiping down baseboards. I told her of all the early mornings when I’d online shop before work, sorting through a mind-numbing assortment of door hinges and cabinet knobs to make sure I got the right ones.

She was born during that whole process and barely remembers it. All she knows is that she wakes up in a room painted sunshine yellow with the morning peeking in through her plantation shutters, illuminating her delicate collectibles and paper dolls on her dresser. She knows that I bring her downstairs to eat oatmeal in front of the television and drive her to preschool in our family SUV.

She doesn’t know how those things got there or what we had to do to make them so. She only knows they’re there for her to do, see, taste and enjoy. At her age, I really don’t want her thinking too hard about it. I do, however, want her to understand that it takes hard work to get something you really want. It also takes time and a bunch of patience (I learned that lesson the hard way.) Her eyes widened and she reached for her fork, motioning me to slide the bowl of peas back over. “So,” she began, “You paid money for these peas and they’re important to you?”

I smiled and pulled her in for a hug. “It’s not really the peas that are important to me,” I explained. “It’s the little girl eating them.”

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