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Learning What's Important

Cora is, for whatever reason, in love with the act of measuring things. She keeps a small tape measure – an automatic roll-up one like people use sewing – in her bedroom, and when we’ve finished with books and prayers for the night she gets out her measuring tape and happily measures, well, all the stuff in her room. She’s said it makes her feel like part of the Cyberchase gang, a math-based cartoon on PBS.

So whenever I get out my industrial metal tap measure – you know, the 25-footer – Cora’s eyes light up and she begs to use it. I pretty much always acquiesce, always reminding her to watch the automatic retraction – it’ll snap your eye out – and leave her to whatever story she’s got going on in her head.

I’ve been working on getting ready for Christmas, and Monday I had my tape measure out preparing boxes for shipping. I left it on a counter and didn’t think anything more about it. But when I went to use it Tuesday to measure out pine garland for our stairs, the tape measure seemed, well, sick.

The tape measure’s tongue was sticking out and I couldn’t get it to retract fully. I gave a slight tug to the piece, at which point the whole thing started unfurling and didn’t stop until all twenty-five feet of aluminum measuring tape were lying in an awkward metal puddle at my feet. And then try as I might, I could not convince the tape to re-spool.

Hmm. Cora, I think?

When Cora got home from school, I brought the whole mess into the living room and explained the situation. Cora looked at it and said, “Huh, it’s still doing that, is it?”

I looked at her.

“Cora, do you know what happened to the tape measure?”

“No,” she said unconvincingly.

“Cora, let me remind you that we have a severe punishment in this house for lying. Do you want to think about it one more time? What happened to the tape measure?”

And Cora burst into tears.

Seems the tape measure’s just hit the end of its life span and began acting crabby on her Tuesday. Cora was worried she’d broken it so she put it back down and walked away, end of story.

By the time this story was finished Cora was a sobbing mess in my lap. I lifted her chin.

“Cora, have I ever let you play with the tape measure before?”

She nodded uncertainly.

“Have you ever gotten in trouble for it?”

Cora shook her head.

“And you’re not in trouble for it now, honey,” I said. “You’d only have been in trouble if you’d lied about it. If this was an accident, it’s ok – you just tell and adult so we can deal with it!”

Cora was shaking with relief by the time the whole thing was over, and I’m hoping the copious snuggles convinced her that 1) telling the truth is really important; and 2) accidents happen and It’s Okay.

Dear Santa – I know what I need in my stocking now . . . . another 25 footer will do nicely.


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