When Beve and I were young and our children were pre-schoolers, we bought our first house. We barely owned it, of course. When I look back now and think of how little we paid for that old three-story farm-house, I have to laugh. 45,000 dollars. Yep, that's all. But it was a fortune to us then. It took a lot of work, too, getting it to a livable condition. The sewer backed up on the very first weekend we lived there. I mean backed up so badly the driveway had to be torn up, a new sewer line put in, and eventually a couple of alder trees taken down. We put in new walls, changed where the front door was, painted every room, put up wall paper. Built outside stairs, walkways, put in a garden. You name it, we did it.
And in the midst of that, had three very young children. It was a crazy time. But then, as I say, we were young and had the energy of the young. We included our children in everything they could be included in. They thought the garden was their own (as it was!). I came out one day to discover this:
It was a sweet time in our family's life. They were fun and interesting and chattered at me all day.
But, if truth be told, I wasn't a natural mother of small children. I adored them but also found them somewhat indecipherable. J had a habit of knocking SK (the baby) over. When asked why he'd done it, he'd simply shrug. The older two were always very competitive--even at the ages you see in this picture (3 and 5). Who was faster--at eating, running up the stairs, playing games, getting ready for bed, getting IN bed...you name it, they competed. Their competition stage only lasted until they were...18 and 20 maybe? Or has it ended? I don't know. SK, the baby, didn't have a competitive bone from her curly haired head down.
There was one day, however, that I learned something about myself and parenting that was so eye-opening, so shocking, so scary, that I've never forgotten it. J had been to a birthday party. Or maybe just to church. This part I don't remember. What I do remember is that it was the beginning of September and in mid-August we'd had new carpet put in to our house. It was a big deal for us, the expense of that carpet. You can imagine. (It was probably just a month or so before the above picture was taken).
I walked into the large room right off the kitchen where we spent all our time, and right in front of the fireplace J had drawn a 'Duck-Duck-Goose' circle on the carpet with a marker. It wasn't a small circle either. But it WAS a permanent marker. He was standing up as I walked into the room, I can see it as if I'd been carrying the memory like an old photograph in my brain all these years. He held the marker behind his back but dropped it as I said his name--rather harshly. You can imagine, I suppose.
I felt harsh. I felt just about as angry as I'd ever felt with any of my children. I grabbed the marker and saw that it was permanent and threw it across the room in a blaze of heat. Then I grabbed his shoulders. I remember this moment so well. I was going to shake the living daylights out of him. Really. That's what I wanted to do. That's what I'd been going to do.
Until I felt those three-year-old shoulders that were so small in my hands. And his face. He wasn't crying. He was too scared to cry. I'd never seen a look like that on my child before. A look of fear. "I'm sorry, Mama," he was saying before any words came out of my mouth. "I just wanted to play "Duck-Duck-Goose."
I picked him up and held him for a moment. Then put him in our 'time-out' chair. "What you did was wrong," I told him. Then I walked to the couch and sat down. What I'd been about to do was more wrong. I needed that time-out more than he did. I remember asking God to forgive me and to keep me from EVER getting that angry again.
It was quite the lesson. I've always remembered the red-hot fire of anger that swelled in me that day, that made me value carpet more than my three-year-old son. I never came close to anything like that again, thank GOD. Really. But it was a hard lesson to learn. Some parents are naturals with small ones. However, God gave me grace sufficient for those years. "Be angry, but do not sin," He tells us. And that's what I learned that day. J had done the wrong thing, but he was learning the difference between right and wrong at three. Sure, he probably had a clue he wasn't supposed to write on the rug. He did hide the marker. Or maybe he hid it because I was already yelling. I don't know. What I do know is that what I'd wanted to do, had almost done was worse. That's where sin lies. In acting without considering consequences. Acting in a blaze of white-hot heat because some THING matters more than a person. "How could you hurt my rug?" Sounds so terrible when said that way.
But the truth is, we value things over people all the time. We get mad on roads, in stores, we allow our stuff to be more important than other people. And that's sin. I've long since been forgiven of that day with J, but I think God has sealed it in my memory so I don't forget to value human beings above all things. I learned this from my son, but must keep learning it. Day by day by day.
P.S. The carpet store had a solution, involving a syringe full of something, that got out the 'permanent' marker. Apparently that wasn't their first 'Duck-duck-goose' circle!