When my daughter Jenny was 4 years old, she was a genius at avoiding bedtime. Her mother and I fell for her tricks night after night. She could go on with nightly prayers until I'd finally say, "OK, Jenny. Amen."
I knew what she was up to.
A dream was born
One night, while she was supposed to be putting her pajamas on, I was sitting in my chair, exhausted. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Jenny danced into the room dressed as a ballerina — complete with tiara. She jumped onto the coffee table, struck a pose and shouted, "Ta-da!" I was about to say, "Very funny, Jenny. Now go put your pajamas on."
But instead of sending her back to her room, I grabbed the lamp and gave her a spotlight. Then I rolled up my magazine for a megaphone and announced: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the beautiful, the talented, Jenny Stafford!" It was as if she were on the main stage of the Metropolitan Opera House. When she finished her dance, the crowd (both of us) jumped to their feet in applause. And a dream was born.
The spirit of a child
Jenny couldn't get enough drama. Every chance that she could be in a drama in church, she was. In high school, she wasn't just in "Hello, Dolly," she was Dolly. She went on to earn her master's degree from the Tisch School of the Arts, and today she works for the Metropolitan Opera Guild. And to think that I nearly missed an opportunity to inspire that dream.
The spirit of a child is a lot like wet cement. It doesn't take much effort to make an imprint. Any time you see your child go skipping by, you're in the presence of a construction zone and ought to ask yourself, What is being built here? Is there anything I can do to advance this cause?
Discipline and routines are important, of course, but so is our response to those unplanned, seemingly trivial moments. I've given my daughters many important talks that were forgotten soon after. But to this day they remember little things I did. You never know when you're making a lasting imprint.
Wess Stafford served as president of Compassion International for 20 years and is the author of Just a Minute: In the heart of a child, one moment . . . can last forever.