It started out as an ordinary day. Normal Saturday busyness... much to do, basketball games to play and watch, errands to run and the added bonus of Valentine's Day piling expectations for fun onto a day that was already much too full. Eggs and sausage for breakfast. The search for uniforms and missing socks. The normal rush to the van to drive way too fast to the church where the games are played. Ordinary... for us.
On Saturdays, three of my four children play basketball in a small church league. We like this activity because there is very little pressure but lots of fun and exercise. In the midst of a Chicago winter, these things go a very long way. The day can be a little tricky, however, in that only one child plays at a time. With Mark coaching most of them, this leaves me on the sideline juggling squirrely children who, while they love to play the game, would really prefer not to watch. We plan for this with books and papers and pencils and hope each week that the church will be kind enough to unlock the library giving kids who are not currently playing a place to hang, read, draw and relax.
The day began in ordinary ways but took a turn half way through the first game. Right in the midst of play, one poor boy slaps both hands over his mouth and throws up. He runs from the court for the nearest bathroom leaving a trail behind him.
Now, I don't know if we have covered this here but I have a bit of a problem with germs. Truth be told, I have a HUGE problem with germs. : ) I am one who always has hand sanitizer in her purse, never touches a handrail and would rather burst than use a public bathroom. I work VERY hard to keep my children healthy and so finding us in a church with a child who was not only feeling sick but actually throwing up, was a huge challenge for me. I was lost in the moment, feeling horrible for this sick boy, now being comforted by his mom but also hoping I could get my family through this activity without spreading this unpredictable illness to my four children.
An adult in charge threw a towel over the mess on the floor, dragged his foot across it, smearing... er... wiping it up, and play continued. On that same floor. The basketball that would touch the hands of all the children present there that morning, bounced freely onto the areas of the floor that had, just moments earlier, been covered with grossness.
So, what does a momma with moderate germ issues do in a situation like this? Once I could control my harried breathing, I gathered up my waiting brood and wrangled them into the unlocked church library. Making sure that everyone had something to do, I explained that someone had been sick and that I wanted to be sure to try to keep us healthy. I explained that it was important to relax in this spot, read books, behave. Everyone settled down with a well-loved activity and I went back to stand at the gym door to watch my other child play. Every few minutes, standing within 10 feet of the library door, I would go back, take a peek and find my three non-playing children happily reading, drawing, writing. Life was good.
The game got exciting and I must have waited two minutes too long to check the library dwellers. The next thing I knew, I look up and see two of my three children playing in the hallway on the other side of the gym. The hallway that is carpeted and covered with one poor boy's puke. The hallway that I clearly told my children to stay out of... which should have been NO challenge since they were told to remain in the library! We will call these two children, in an effort to protect their young selves, Child A and Child B.
From across the gym, Child A catches my eye. He freezes. He KNOWS. I motion to him to come back to me and he does... with the look of a boy who fully understands he is in TROUBLE. I meet him half-way and ask him how this has come to be. He says these words to me: "Child B said I should come with him. He said, you would never know."
Did you just gasp? I GASPED. Now, Child A is the least offender here because of this new news. Child B... well, he is in more trouble than he has likely previously known. And why? Because he took his brother to a germy place? No. Because he left the library? No. The reason this poor boy was in way over his sweet head is because he led his brother to do make a choice that was fully contrary to what I had told them clearly to do... AND (this is the most important part) he said that this would be totally fine because "momma will never know". In one fell swoop, he led his brother to believe that right and wrong are effected, not by constants or rules, but instead by WHO knows you have done this wrong thing.
Now, I know that this bad choice was really not a huge deal... I get that. But, the potential negative lesson was one that filled my head with worries that would far outreach one ordinary Saturday in February. I had to face the fact that at least one of my children is thinking that there is a way around the boundaries my husband and I set. I had to face the fact that another of my children is easily led to do something he knows is wrong. I had to face the fact that while this situation was completely and totally benign, the decisions that could come from this type of thinking could be life changing... in very negative ways.
The game ended and Mark and I put all the children in the van. Two were completely overwhelmed by what was to come. Which was good and right. We took all the kids home and tried to explain WHY this situation was so upsetting to us. And then we set about making the lesson stick. Good choices lead to good things. Bad choices, not so much. Child C had made great choices all morning. He had one on one time with mom, lunch uninterrupted and a small, much coveted Lego item purchased just for him. Child A and B? Home with dad to do chores, sense loss, and fully understand where this path leads. We do not spank our children but we do believe that discipline is really important. Discipline teaches. They spent the afternoon learning.
By the end of the day, both boys could not only talk about what went wrong but about specifically what we need to see differently from them. Child B was reminded about how important he is in the life of his brothers... how offering a good example to them is so important. Child A was taught, likely for the first time, that when someone asks you or tells you to do something, you must think before you act. These are big lessons for anyone, huge if you are a child. But, if we can find a way to make them stick, they are life changing in ways that lead to many good things.
I think sometimes we get into a season of complacency in our parenting. We see our children, we feel good about where they are. We love them. We care for them. Day leads to day and it seems like all is well. I know this happens to us. Overall, our kids are pretty well-behaved and it is easy to become complacent in it all. And then, we get a wake-up call. A glimpse into what is brewing in our families. A peek into the minds of our children. A moment that shows us a small experience that could grow into something hurtful or negative. This was Saturday for us. It was not a discipline problem of great magnitude and I certainly could have brought my errant children back into the library and offered a "do-over". But, in doing so, I might have missed the chance to see something that I needed to teach them now. I might have missed a small infraction that, gone unchecked, could have been repeated in a bigger ways. And that is the one part that motivated us to take the situation seriously. What if they had gotten away with it? What would they do the next time, if they really believed that what makes a choice good or bad is whether or not "momma finds out".
For two of my children, Saturday was not a red letter day. Yet, we ended the day with our children on our laps, arms wrapped firmly around their sweet selves, reaffirming our unending love for them. We reminded them that today's troubles belong to today. Tomorrow is a brand new day. We told them that we forgive them... and that we trust them to learn from this lesson and move forward from here. And they went to bed knowing they are seen. And loved. And known. And accepted.
I do not want to be complacent. I want to look and see and pay attention to, not only the situation at hand, but the potential hidden in this moment. I want to be sure to look for lessons and to take the time to teach them today... because today is all I know I have. I know we get weary... I know you do too. But, this season only feels long... and it will pass before we know it. We need to take the time today to notice what our children are showing us, take the time to teach them what they will need to know when the decisions they make are really all their own, take the time to pull them onto our laps create a structure from which they can hang all these important lessons. In doing so, we show them that what we say is true. We love them more than they know.
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