Monday, August 23, 2010

The Power of Contrition

Tonight before dinner, while they were supposed to be washing their hands, the kids squirted hand soap in the toilet.

Why?  I'm sure I couldn't tell you.  I'm sure they couldn't either.  I'll chalk it up to the irresistible call of science.  What would happen if...

Our toilet seems no worse for the soapy wear.  My tired body and frazzled nerves were, though.  It wasn't so much this particular incident as the series of thoughtless acts that have littered our last few days--each insignificant in itself yet culminating in a roar of frustration.  Arghhhhh!  Enough already.

We talked about their decisions over the last few days at bedtime in lieu of reading books.  Not in the "mommy's-really-angry-and-lecturing-in-a crisp-cool-voice" but in a "mommy's-really-weary-and-wondering-why-we-can't-just-make-life-easier-for each-other" kind of way.  I laid out my feelings, we prayed as we do every night, and after we said, "Amen," Ben seemed to get it, expressing genuine repentance a few times: "I feel sad about my decisions, Mommy...I'm wondering why I did that, like Pickles the Cat...I'm sorry for making you feel that way."  (Pickles the Fire Cat, in the book of the same name, begins his life chasing small cats from his yard, but when he becomes the fire cat and learns to help, he feels remorseful for his previous behavior, wondering why he treated others so poorly.)  

Ben's contrite spirit is everything on a day when I've wondered if anything I'm doing as a mommy is effective.  And it makes me wonder about parenting.  In the end, it seems the most effective parenting moments I have are based on relationship.  Mommy is a person.  Ben is a person.  Abby is a person.  We all have to get along in this house and in this world.  How can we best do that?  

I'm sure childishness will strike again, but hearing even just one sincere apology renews my patience one hundred-fold.  I apologized tonight, too, for lacking patience and for channeling my frustration into my voice.  We all confessed.  Then we all forgave each other.  And we all went to bed at peace with each other.

Confession.  Forgiveness.  They are oft-neglected but powerful antidotes to all that is ugly within us.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bad Guys

"But Mommy, why don't they want people driving on their road?" Ben asked as we turned the car away from the street with the "No Trespassing" sign.

"Well, maybe they want to make sure no one drives up there who might want to cause trouble," I suggest, not entirely sure why the "No Trespassing" sign would be necessary on a road so far from civilization.

"But Mommy, a bad guy could still just drive up there," Ben reasons, the boy who always looks for the way around the obstacle.  Someday he'll win a chess tournament.  Or cure cancer.

"Yes, a bad guy could just drive up there, but probably there aren't too many bad guys around who want to drive up there.  Probably there are just people like us who are hoping to get a closer view of the buffalo," I reason back.

"But what if a bad guy just drove up there?"he presses.

"Well, then the people who live there would probably call the police, and the police would come protect them,"I say.

"Do the police have ropes to tie him up?" he asks.

"No, but they have handcuffs," I say.

"Would they use their guns to shoot the bad guy?" Ben asks.

"Not unless they feel someone is in danger.  The best police officers are the ones who hope they never have to use their gun," I say, my stomach turning over at the thought of guns and violence and destruction, even in defense of the innocent.

It's a new phenomenon, this stomach-turning response to pain in the world, whether "deserved" or not--a product of motherhood and the unsettling realization that all bad guys are people; that all villains came from someone, somewhere; that there are always miles leading to a particular outcome.

In the car a few days earlier, I listened to a segment on NPR about how the children of Iraq are faring the war.  Early in the piece, a young boy is interviewed about the death of his parents: he says his mother was kidnapped one day when she went out for a walk.  He overheard the call his father received, asking whether the family was Sunni or Shiite, then threatening to "blow her up with the other Shiites." They did just that, strapping a vest of explosives to her body and detonating her life.  The boy's father cried so hard at the news, his asthma was triggered--and even after being taken to the hospital, he died, leaving the boy without parents.  Later in the piece, Dr. Haidar Al-Maliki, a child psychiatrist at the Central Hospital for Children in Iraq, describes his observations from working with orphans and traumatized children.  These children, he says, have grown accustomed to violence, many of whom witnessed their parents or others close to them killed in cruel and gruesome ways.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is common among children like this.  Her fears that when this generation grows up, the country will be full of traumatized adults who will turn to violence themselves.  He ended the interview with a prophecy: "I've said it before and I'll say it again, we killed one Saddam, but we've created a million Saddams."

Mileage.  Trauma.  Bad guys.  Who is the bad guy?  This world view of motherhood does not happily coexist in a culture that exults "survival of the fittest" and "kill or be killed" as its modus operandi.  And it's certainly not easily explained to a five-year-old fascinated with guns, bad guys, superheroes, and self-defense.  I remind myself that his world view is black and white, that it's supposed to be at his age.  But internally, I wrestle, wondering how to raise a child who values both justice and mercy, who knows right from wrong but does not judge, who Loves.

From the backseat, I hear, "But Jesus loves bad guys.  If I caught a bad guy, I would treat him respectfully because that helps him learn how to treat people."

My breath catches.  I hear Love.

"Yes, Baby, Jesus does love bad guys, and you're right: we teach people how to treat us by the way we treat them."  This revision of the golden rule has become a mantra in our household as the kids navigate the territory of sibling-hood and friendship and bump up against selfishness, their own and each other's.  We've also talked often about how Jesus loves good guys and bad guys--and thank goodness, because the line between the two is so thin sometimes.  Jesus draws no distinction between hate and murder.  But even as I marvel at the truth that is rooting itself in Ben's soul, I wonder about the practicality of such a "philosophy," worrying he might neglect to defend himself if faced with someone who wishes him harm.  And then I think of Jesus again and wonder where this model of self-defense came from.  Certainly not from the cross.  I drive, perplexed--yet grateful for a God who is far better than any authority I know on this earth.

I can't remember how the conversation ended.  We arrived at the pizza restaurant, and the kids dissolved into tears over who would get the drawing board at the table.  Abby had an accident in her chair while I was at the salad bar trying unsuccessfully to quiet her repeated, insistent requests for cheese pizza from across the restaurant.  When finally I had both kids at the table, happy, dry, and with food, I managed to eat a few bites before Ben said, "Mommy, I need to go potty."  And so, weary, I got up and walked him to the bathroom, trying not to feel frustrated at nature's call.

"Mommy, I love you.  I love you more than I love myself," Ben said from the stall.

The bathroom trip was redeemed.

"Oh, Sunshine, that means you love me like Jesus," I said.  "And I love you, too."

Redemption is everywhere.  In the bathroom of the pizza restaurant after a harried half hour.  In Iraq.  In the hearts of good guys and bad guys, however the distinction is drawn.  It is a hope I cling to in a world ravaged by brokenness and "bad guys."  All things are being made new.  That's a "philosophy" I can believe in.  


Friday, August 13, 2010

Car Seat Tale

From the backseat as we drove home from the rec center this sunny afternoon:

Ben: "Abigail Grace Taylor, I would love to play with you."
Abby: "Benjowmin Davih Taywor, I wouh yuv to pay wif you."

Sacred sibling vows--all sincerity and sweetness.


Monday, August 2, 2010

(Un)Sleeping Beauty

The kids grow more and more amazing (and stupefying) by the day.  We took them camping over the weekend, our first attempt since our camping trip two summers ago was cut short by freezing temperatures, and it was a success.  The kids loved the tent, the sleeping bags, the campfire, and the novelty of living outdoors.  They ran around the site finding sticks and playing games in the tent and asking questions.  The day was so full, Abby asked to go to bed before we'd even had dinner and s'mores.  Her eyes drooped, and she gladly put on her fuzzy winter pajamas so I could tuck her into her sleeping bag.  She said she didn't even want to read books or sing--she was too tired.  So I kissed her and left the tent to return to the activity outside.

In spite of her exhaustion, however, Abby talked and sang and jabbered for nearly an hour.  She finally grew quiet as we settled in to roast our marshmallows, and we relaxed in the knowledge our baby was sleeping.  Not twenty minutes later, though, we heard a loud, panicked cry, and Josh ran to the tent to see what woke her.  We heard him ask, "Abby, what happened?" in a voice that triggered my worry, and then he stepped out of the tent with Abby in his arms where we saw her right eye completely blackened.

Half a dozen possibilities came to mind.  I didn't see blood but didn't know if it was there and just covered in dirt.  Had she found some ash?  Had she found a pen?  Was there something in her sleeping bag?  Nothing made sense--until I entered the tent and found my makeup bag out and its contents strewn all over the tent.  As I picked up blush and lip gloss, I heard Abby say "mascara" as she explained what had happened, and I looked down to find the mascara wand and the tube on the tent floor.  Then I noticed black mascara on the floor, the side of the tent, and the air mattress.  Abby's quiet had not been due to sleep but rather due to her focused exploration of Mama's things.

The pieces came together, and we couldn't help but chuckle.  Here we are in the mountains having rustic adventures, and Abby is playing beauty parlor in the tent when she should be sleeping.  It was too funny, and too cute.  We cleaned her up with my face wipes--a time-consuming endeavor.  Her attempts to apply mascara to her own eyelashes resulted in black gook covering the top and bottom of her eye, the top of her cheek, and some of her nose.  Her hands had black streaks, and I think this must have prompted her cry: seeing her hand covered in a mess she couldn't fix.

We wiped her off gently, intermittently crooning consolation and hiding our giggles.  As we returned her to her natural skin color, she asked, "Mama, how do you get it on your eye?"  I explained my technique and then said, "Abby, I'll teach you how to put mascara on in about ten years, okay?"  She seemed to accept this timeline and also indicated she wouldn't be playing with my makeup in the meantime.  We'll see if the trauma of her black eye is enough to deter further experimentation.

They're learning the world--at times too slowly for my liking, at times sooner than is appropriate.  Josh and I step in to navigate, encouraging them along or slowing them down, equipping them to face greater responsibility and freedom in some areas while reserving other privileges for later.  But in the midst of this swirling sea of life stand two little people who love us like we hung the sun, moon, and stars.  

When I pulled into the garage tonight after teaching my spin class, I saw the door from the house open so Abby could peer out.  She beamed--a huge, sincere smile--as she stood there in her little pink pajamas, her tan legs bouncing and tick-tocking and swinging in perpetual motion.  I waved at her, and she rolled her wrist in circles, her best attempt at an enthusiastic wave.  She waited for me to get out of the car: half big girl, half baby, all charm and cuteness.  And I couldn't help but freeze the moment in my mind to remember when she's applying her own mascara someday.  These are precious days.
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