Life’s Happy Little Accidents

I grew up in the 1960s and 70s when the popular painter Bob Ross had a PBS television series. His clever witticisms are well known and have made a big comeback in recent years as younger generations discover the magic in his positive outlook on life. One of my favorite Ross expressions is “happy little accidents,” which he used in explaining that our mistakes are just opportunities for growth and discovery.

I’m not proud that I have “perfectionist” tendencies. On the contrary, I view this part of my make-up as a curse I have battled all my life, even in childhood. When others around me seemed to roll and laugh with the punches, I took perceived failures too much to heart. It has only been since my retirement that I take life a little less seriously and can laugh when things fall short of my expectations.

At this age, I’m glad, so many things didn’t go as I had initially planned, for if they had, I would’ve missed out on so much – large and small, that has become so special to me.

Many things have occurred unintended in my life – broken relationships, job failures, parenting mistakes, and the consequences of being a stubborn hard-head. But despite it all, I’m okay with it and not unsatisfied with who I am now. Of course, I could be better and will continue to aspire. But I am no longer devastated when things don’t turn out as I wish.

I’m reminded of a day when a close friend and I drove to another town for shopping and dining. One of us thought we knew a shortcut through the country and promptly became lost. My friend was upbeat and confident the road would eventually lead to where we wanted to go. But I was impatient and anxious, partly because I had a full bladder and somewhat because my gas tank was nearly empty. I grew increasingly agitated, but suddenly, we came around a curve by a horse farm. And for as far as I could see, old worn cowboy boots had been turned upside down and placed on top of all the fence posts. It was unique, personal, and charming. Someone had been raising horses and farming for a very long time. The boots may have been placed on the posts’ tops to help slow their eroding from rain, snow, and ice. But the boots also personalized the landscape and told the landowner’s story. We loved it; the image has stuck with me for several years. Being lost led to a cool sight.

Another “happy accident” I had was learning to make homemade mayonnaise. I was in a hurry and foolishly trying to prepare the recipe without wearing my reading glasses. When I meant to grab the clear bottle of white vinegar, I grabbed the clear bottle of almond extract that sat next to it and did not read the labels. My mayonnaise concoction looked beautiful, but something was terribly wrong when I spread it on the sandwich. It didn’t smell at all like mayonnaise. It was almond-flavored mayonnaise that was a disagreeable disaster. My husband has never let me forget it. And though I was embarrassed and disappointed in myself then, we have since enjoyed many good laughs over the incident. That failure led to some happy laughter, which I consider a sweet blessing.

When my granddaughter, Jaycie, was 3 or 4, I remember her trying to draw something and becoming upset because she couldn’t make the image she had in her head. She pouted and threw her pencil. I told her not to be hard on herself and that mistakes could be made interesting. To demonstrate, I took some scrap paper and had her make squiggly “mistakes” on it. Then I turned the paper this way and that and added my own lines to turn her squiggles into silly creatures. Her smile filled my heart, and I’d made my point. I then took a turn to make a squiggle and passed the paper back to her, and she put her spin on it. We went back and forth like this, inventing our own “squiggle game,” which we’ve played for many years. It became a fun way to pass the time when waiting for things, like our turn to be called at the doctor’s office or for our food to be served in a restaurant.

No matter what age we are, learning to make lemonade from life’s lemons is necessary for us to develop more flexible thinking. Indeed, everything we’ve ever known is rooted in some failure. Just days ago, my five-month-old granddaughter, Hallie, attempted to reach for a toy, stretching and whimpering in frustration. Then, much to her surprise, she rolled over and was closer to where she wanted to be. She’d figured out how to roll over, albeit accidentally. But the revelation stuck. Since then, she’s deliberately and repeatedly put herself in the same position until now; finally, she can roll over at will — a significant turning point in her development that will lead to many more achievements.

This month, I’ve reviewed an excellent interactive board book on “happy little accidents” called Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg, which you can read about under Recommended Reads. And under Activities, check out my “Squiggle Challenge” worksheet to encourage your “outside-the-box” thinking skills.

Published by littleseedsread

Hello, my name is Julie Lerczak. For over twenty-five years I worked as an educator in a variety of art, history, and anthropology museums in Illinois, Iowa, and Virginia. Then, for the last five years of my career, I was an environmental educator. I am now retired and am pursuing my dream of being a children's book author. I am a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I live in Illinois with my husband Tom and our rescued pet turtle "Tootles." When I'm not writing stories I enjoy gardening, painting, making pottery, beekeeping, photography, hiking, and traveling.

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