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hammering out discipline and forgiveness

Harvey ran into the house looking for me. He found me upstairs folding laundry. He had run all the way from the garden up two flights of stairs to give me a red cherry tomato. From HIS OWN garden bed.

"There's even one for Dada!" he exclaimed gleefully as he ran back downstairs.

This is my four-year-old: perfect sweetness and light.


Because there are other times he gives me the only ripe cherry tomato, and then he asked for half of it, and then Zion asked for the other half of it, and I then I just get the bit of juice that goes in my mouth when I bite the tomato in half before distributing it to the children. (What, you don't cut up your children's food by biting it? What are you like a knife-wielding madman all the time?)

Or like the other day when we got into a big fight over the screen door. Harvey wanted the screen door open and Zion wanted the screen door closed. So Zion was trying to shut the screen door but Harvey was standing in the doorway blocking its passage, and both of them were screaming. I saw both the potential for injury and the potential for breaking the door, so I demanded Harvey move. He tried to tell me the whole story of what he wanted and what Zion wanted, and I told him to get out of the door first and then tell me the story. He protested louder and Zion tried to bite him, so I pulled Zion away and Harvey fell out of the doorway. Which didn't make him happier.

In retrospect, this should have been enough of a lesson in listening to Mama. (Don't listen, and you clearly might fall out of a doorway.) But I was peeved, so I opened up a big tirade about disobedience. It went something like this: "It is my JOB to keep you safe, and that's means safe from being HURT. But I can't DO THAT if you don't LISTEN TO ME when I tell you to MOVE." And Harvey did what he always does when I scold him which is to close his eyes and put his hands over his ears. Which made me pissed-er. So I told him he could come inside when he was ready to listen and say sorry.

He yelled. He told me he had already said sorry to the closed door. We had a little disagreement of how saying sorry works. I left him outside for a bit longer.

Then I heard some hammering. I wondered if Harvey was trying to break the house to spite me. I decided to let him alone for a bit anyway.

A few minutes later Harvey came to the door and yelled, "I WANT TO SAY SORRY TO YOU!" He came in with a big smile on his face.

"Do you want to see the thing I made?" He asked.

"Did you have something to say to me?"

Harvey looked at his feet. "srry..." he mumbled, followed immediately by a loud "DO YOU WANT TO SEE WHAT I MADE???"

He brought in a board on which he'd hammered four nails and two smaller pieces of wood.

"I made this for you," he said, "So you would forgive me."

Harvey's guilt offering

Okay, so my heart got a little bit of a pounding too.

From a "gentle parenting" prospective, I come off sounding like a monster. If my child thinks he needs to do something to win my love or forgiveness, I'm only teaching him manipulation, aren't I? At the very least I'm not succeeding with teaching him the concept of "sorry."

But this is also maddening! What I'm trying to teach him isn't terribly hard! "Harvey!" I said, "I love what you made, but you don't need to make me a present for me to forgive you. You just have to SAY YOU'RE SORRY!"

What's the moral of this story?

I get that children need to be emotionally supported, need to be heard, need to have their stories understood to the fullest sometimes stupidest sometimes door-breaking-est detail. I also think that they need to obey parents sometimes. Not all the time, and not often without a discussion, but sometimes, when there's danger involved or the likelihood of breaking stuff, they just need to shut up and move.

But whenever I get into a "you need to say you're sorry" battle with one of my kids, I end up feeling a little sheepish. I'm secretly praying for it to work out in my favor, and while I'm doing so I'm pretty sorry that I got myself into this mess. Don't get me wrong: I want them to listen, to say sorry, to learn how to be in relationship with other people and to not act like little despots. But I don't want them just to learn how to survive under a different despot, ie their mother. So when they end up saying sorry I feel both grateful and guilty at the same time.

Which is why the board creation is almost too much. It's like a guilt offering in a perverse system of emotional codependence that I seem to have unknowingly created.

Or maybe I'm reading too much into things. Maybe he was just mad and he just wanted to hammer. When he was done maybe he just wanted to show me. Maybe he knew a present would make me happy. Maybe a present after you've been a jerk is not such a bad relationship strategy.

Maybe a totem of forgiveness is sometimes what we humans need.

"The Lord said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." (Numbers 21:8)
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him." (John 3:14-15)


Oh, Leah, God bless you! Bless your thoughtfulness, your reflections, your humor, your relationships with your boys, bless you in moments of GETOUTOFTHEDOORness, and in moments of OHWOWHERANUPTWOFLIGHTSOFSTAIRSTOGIVEMEACHERRYTOMATO! Bless forgiveness and abundant love in your house! :-)

(Oh yes, and bless you for the oh-so-thoughtful travel mug, compete with hand-knit cozy! I LOVE it!!! Thank you for being such tremendous partners for me & for KC!) :-)

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