11/27/2013 09:04 am ET Updated Jan 27, 2014

Thankful for Teachable Moments

There have been numerous times my children's behavior made me wish a magic wand would instantly make my family disappear from the scene and teleport us back to the private and cozy comforts of home. We have all had them, right? You're in the grocery store and you refuse to let your child push the cart any longer. After all, she's bashed the back of your heels repeatedly with those darn wheels bumping into you. You think the foot may actually need to be wrapped and elevated when you get home. You take the cart back into your hands, and the full-blown tantrum begins.

Or how about the special toy your child spots at the checkout counter? It simply can't wait for that upcoming birthday or Christmas. He needs it now! You try and play the "good parent" role and stick to your guns by repeating your words like a broken record, "Not today, sweetie. I wonder if you'd like to write this down on your wish list when we get home. You can start saving your money to buy one with your allowance if you'd like to."

When the crying, whining, or meltdown begins and I am completely trapped between impatient, frowning customers on both sides of me, my items already on the conveyor belt, that is the very moment I wish for my magic wand.

In my children's very short lifetime, however, I recall two occasions some parents might describe with embarrassment, shame, or frustration. Surprisingly, I found myself feeling just the opposite. I did not close my eyes, take three deep breaths, and wish for my magic wand as one might imagine. Instead, I seized the opportunity to make these teachable moments for my children, and felt quite proud of my kids at the end of the day for the lessons we all learned.

Occasion #1: Two years ago, my five-year-old walked up to a man at our local pool who had an extremely large stomach. She looked up at him and said quite innocently, "You got a baby in there?" Not sure what to say, I put my hand over my mouth, and looked at his wife apologetically. Before I could even say anything, the man and his wife began howling with laughter. The man said, "I know, darling. I've had a bit too much food over my sixty-five years, and you reminded me I probably need to eat better and exercise." As he walked away to get back in the pool, my daughter asked me again if he had a baby in his stomach. This was the perfect opportunity to talk with her very simply about babies coming from women, not men. I also told her the man was probably telling us how we need to make good food choices and exercise so our bodies can stay healthy. I didn't need to go on and on about the merits of healthy eating and exercise. She understood in that one short example -- lesson learned!

Occasion #2: My family was walking through the mall one weekend, and passed a man in front of one of the toy stores making balloon toys for children. He was quite talented with his craft, and there was a long line of children waiting to have one made. As we waited patiently in line, I noticed my son staring at the man, who happened to be a little person. My son didn't ask me any questions, but as we approached the line, his curiosity in the man never waned. Finally, when we reached the top of the line and the balloon man asked my son what animal he wanted, my son's only response was, "Hey, did you know that I'm taller than you?" I will admit I blushed during a very pregnant pause, not quite sure how to respond. The man, who was seated in a stool, stood up at that point and said to my son, "Actually, I'm a little taller than you, see?" He stood head to head with my son and made his point. Feeling a bit more at ease, I was then able to add, "Isn't it wonderful that we can be many sizes and have so many different talents and gifts?" The balloon man went on to make his figure for my son, who was quite impressed. As we walked off, my son commented, "Mommy, I want to be a balloon man when I grow up." And so, while those may not be my exact aspirations for Tyler, the simple fact that my son was able to celebrate and accept human diversity in one of its many forms was akin to winning the lottery. I looked at my son lovingly and replied, "I can't wait to see you all grown up, Mr. Balloon Man!"

The funny thing is that in both situations, I could have wished for my magic wand to teleport us quickly back home. They both could have been awkward, uncomfortable, and embarrassing moments for all of us. What I did not realize at the moment was that I actually had my wand with me at the pool and in the mall. Instead of teleporting us away, the wand brought us teachable moments, and I invite all parents to try and search for more of these on a daily basis.