Little Red Steps
Susie E. Caron © 4/21/16
I was not yet 3 years old when I painted the steps. However, I remember like it was yesterday.
We lived in a second floor apartment with outdoor steps to the ground. In my memory, I can see myself in short coveralls and bare feet, inching down the wooden stairs. I’d been told to ‘go play outdoors’. (Things were different in 1952.) To my surprise, about ¾ of the way down, I came upon an open can of red paint and a big wide brush. I figured that our landlord was going to paint the stairs, so I took the opportunity to help him.
While I struggled to manage that big, big, brush, which became very heavy when I dipped it into the paint, the Landlord arrived at the foot of the steps.
“Oh no, little lady,” he said, as he took the now sticky brush from my red stained hands. He carefully balanced the brush on the edge of the can. Then he took my clean hand into his, and helped me climb back up the stairs. “Your Mother is not going to be too happy about this.” He said, shaking his head.
She wasn’t. When she arrived to the other side of our screened in, green, wooden door. She smiled weakly at him and told him thank you, but immediately began scolding me.
She commanded me to ‘stand right there, young lady,’ and added ‘don’t you move.’ Suddenly afraid, I wanted to bolt down those steps, but I stayed rooted to the spot and began to cry. In a moment, she returned, still yelling at me, with rags and a can of something that smelled so bad it stung my nose as she opened it.
On our open deck, she roughly stripped me of my short coveralls and Tee- shirt. Next she plopped me upright into the small, empty, wading pool. Apparently I was a total mess, and the worst was yet to come.
Mother began scrubbing me; my legs and feet, hands and arms, face, head and neck with a rag dipped in turpentine. (Back then there was only toxic oil based paints, so she had to remove it with turpentine.)
She was rough and she kept yelling at me about paint, and money, and you'll be sorry and other scary things that an almost 3 year old could never understand. I remember that I was terrified. My mother was very angry and my skin stung from the turpentine and from the harsh rubbing it took to get it off. I remember when she finished that, she filled the small pool with the hose and commanded me to stay while she bathed me in the cold water, along with some soap. I don’t remember much about the rest of the day.
Please note: I was not abused. My mother did what she had to do to get me cleaned up. If she hadn’t, I could have suffered lead poisoning or even died. I am retelling this story as I perceived it in my child’s mind, because I want to illustrate how it affected me then and what I gained from that experience.
As I grew up I recognized that my Landlord and my Mother had reacted very differently.
Every time I recalled that event, I wondered “Why?”, "Why did the Landlord and my mother react differently"?
I was the same child. The steps were the same steps. The paint was the same red paint.
(Except that it wasn't. I was informed that it was actually green paint, but I believe that it changed in my mind because my legs and arms stayed red for quite a while after the scrubbing.)
Anyway, the only thing that was truly different were the reactions of my Landlord and my Mother. They had each responded in different ways to my behavior.
As a result of my experiences, studies, and work with children and families I've uncovered some basic truths.
Adults don’t understand children and children don’t speak ‘adult’.
Adults can choose how they respond or react to children’s behaviors.
At almost 3 years of age, I was already a person who wanted ‘to help people.’
I still do.
That’s why I write parenting articles and podcasts. I really want to help you understand your kids better, connect with them, gain their cooperation and have more fun.
That’s also why I write picture books for adults to read with their children. I want to illustrate how children think, how their perception of their world develops, and encourage you to talk about these important things with them. You can find them at SusieCaronOnAmazon.com
Do you like what I’m sharing? Is this helpful? Give me an idea what issues you struggle with and I’ll answer you. Just email me: email@example.com
Remember, Twee’ means you and me
Choosing wisely how to respond to children
Susie E. Caron MA,
Author, Blogger, Podcaster,
Christian, Wife, & Mother, helps build parent-child relationships, 1 blog, book & podcast at a time.
Welcome! I recently retired from combined careers in teaching, psychotherapy, and parent coaching to spend more time writing.
When I'm not busy creating books or articles, you might find me looking for dark chocolate or riding my beautiful horse Apple in the woods and fields of Vermont.
These articles are for educational and self-help purposes only and are not intended as psychotherapy.
If you experience unusual symptoms or discomfort please see your medical or mental health practitioner.
No patent liability is assumed for use of the information contained. The author disclaims any responsibility for loss or risk for use or application of this material.
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Blog Reviews & Thank You!
July 13 at 7:17pm ·
Just wanted to say that I love your posts about the different ways to connect/relate/understand your child. It has given me a new approach towards understanding my daughter and allowing HER to tell me how she feels instead of me suggesting to her how she should feel. Thanks Susie!