As we walked down the hall together, I asked, "Where are your glasses?"
She sighed, looked down at the floor, and said, "I forgot them at home. Now my teacher says I am in trouble."
"Hmm..." I pondered, aloud. "What does that mean: in trouble?"
"I don't know, she just said I'm in trouble because I forgot them."
"Did she give you silent lunch?"
"Do you have to walk laps at recess?"
"Well, it sounds to me like your teacher just wants you to know that she is disappointed you don't have what you need for school today."
"I guess..." She was still walking with her head hung down toward the floor.
"Let me ask you something: can you make your glasses magically appear, right now?"
"Are you sure? Cause I'll give you $100 right now if you make your glasses appear in my hands! Ready ... GO!"
She perked up a bit, smiling as she exclaimed, "I can't!"
"Interesting. Well, you know what that means? That means you just have to accept that you forgot them. You can't go back in time and change it. And you can't change it right now. All you can do is come up with a good strategy for making sure you don't forget them tomorrow."
"Oh, I have one already! I'm going to put them on my backpack when I take them off tonight."
"Wow! You are seriously smart. Can you help me come up with a strategy to stop losing my coffee mug?"
She was laughing now, and she entered the resource classroom with her head held high.
Trouble is a very real place that we put one another, and ourselves. It's a place of shame. There's no way out because there are no choices, no solutions. Trouble isn't about a solution. It's emotional jail - you're locked in until someone decides they aren't mad at you anymore (or until you decide you aren't mad at you anymore).
Trouble doesn't fix problems. It doesn't restore relationship. And the few people it does motivate, don't come away with healthy results. They learn to be people-pleasers rather than wise choosers, planners, and executers.
Trouble doesn't work.
Last night my daughter was exhausted. We mistakenly assumed she didn't have any homework due this morning, so we were cramming it in after dinner on a Sunday night. No fun.
Eventually, I made the call. She'd done all she could do. It would have to be enough.
She was upset. She didn't want to be in trouble.
I asked her the same thing I'd asked the young student: what is trouble? She couldn't answer. I suggested maybe trouble was that she wouldn't get full credit because the work would be late. When she nodded, I reminded her that she has an A in that particular class, so she could afford to lose those points. Anxiety still riddled her, though. I encouraged her to type an email to her teacher, explaining exactly what had occurred (Grandma came to visit, we waited too long to start homework, she did math first because there was a lot of it, etc) and telling him that she'd complete the assignment the following evening. This helped her, more. Emailing him didn't have to do with the points; we still expect he will withhold those. It had to do with their relationship. What was really bothering her wasn't the grade. What she feared was that he would be "mad" at her. She didn't want to be in trouble.
A truth I tried to convey to the student and my daughter (and regularly, myself) is this:
a person can only do what a person can do.
What you should have done isn't worth talking about, except to create better strategies and systems to ensure that you do differently in the future.
But in the present, this very moment, you can only do what you can do.
And I think accepting that about yourself and others is a healthy practice.