“Do you want to tell mom what you said while she was out of the room, or shall I?”
My ten-year-old sat on the chair opposite of his big sister, his face taut and drawn long. Fear shot through his eyes.
I looked at Nikko and then across the room at his older sister, Bella. At twenty, she represents authority in his life; as the oldest of my brood, she often takes the roll of mom jr.
I could tell that something happened here. Something serious.
So, I stopped my after-Christmas-nearly-New-Years-the-kids-are-all-home-from-school endless cycle of cleaning house and took a seat. We were a triangle of waiting.
Bella repeated her question, but Nikko sat still, dumbstruck.
Getting impatient with his silence I broke into the tension, “Well? What’s happened?”
Nothing. No sound from Nikko.
“Nikko didn’t know I was sitting here and he said some things. He called you names while you were in the garage.”
Nikko winced as if struck in the face.
“Oh,” I replied.
It took almost a half hour for Nikko to say aloud in my presence the words that repeatedly tumbled so easily from his mouth in my absence, when he thought he was alone with his mumbling. Apparently, his grumbly attitude had a vocabulary to match.
When he finally said the words, I was shocked. Now, we can’t say our kids have never heard swearing, but it isn’t a regular occurrence at our house and this brand of name calling that rushed so freely from my baby boy’s lips was more the school-yard-school-bus variety. More oh-my-junior-high kind of cussing.
What was shocking, actually like a bolt to my heart, was that he’d call me that.
And I won’t lie and say it didn’t hurt my feelings. It stung in the softest of all spots only we mother’s have. I have to admit I’ll aways remember that trio of words strung together with a certain shot of venom hurled in my direction from my angel boy.
It comes to this, mamas.
You don’t want to believe it when you swaddle that rosy-cheeked bundle or marvel at their pink, pea-shaped toes and their innocent, toothless grins. And we mamas that have been around the block don’t want to pin-pop your new-mommy bubbles. We know the season is tender and short, like a midwestern spring, when all is solved with a snuggle and a slurping of milk, a diaper change or a pat-pat-patting and the low tones of a lullaby. We know it’s like breath on the window, that innocent spring of life when there is no occasion to discipline, when their gaze into yours is wonder and purest love. They’ll be other days when the afternoon is sullied and darkened because out of those rosebud lips slithers a snarling epithet usually reserved for deck-swabbing-sailors. There will be the late-night lies and the if-looks-could-kill expressions shot carelessly in your direction. But mama’s, daddies, it comes to this.
Nothing you do as a parent will shield you from this. Your adorable, sheltered, pink-cheeked cherubs will fling crap at you, they will blame you, hate you perhaps, be embarrassed by you, ignore you, lie to you, call you names. And when they’re grown you will one day wish for the easier battles when your kindergartner packs her Barbie suitcase and decides to run away. You will long for the day you found scribbled, torn and smudged notes hidden in the corner of the room under a pile of stuffed animals, notes that say, I hate mom, she is mean and I hate her.
But you will never give up on them. You will never stop loving them more. You just want another opportunity to give them grace.
So I heard Nikko cough and sputter the words out into the room, and they clunked onto the floor between us, and his mouth formed a cry and the shame of it all broke his stiff shoulders into shuddering sobs.
And in an instant, I wasn’t hurt, I wasn’t angry. I knew this wasn’t the time for mouth-washing (or my personal choice, licking an onion). This was an opportunity for me to set aside my wounded heart and counter his filthy, grumbling, dirty-with-the-sin-of-the-world words with my words of truth and God’s words of grace. If he could see in my response something radically different than the wrath and punishment that he expected, his shame might dissolve into gratitude and his trepidation might be enveloped in grace and his heart might be won and guilt would only be the grit that polished that spot of his soul into a sparkling memory of love.
And I won’t lie and tell you I didn’t wipe away tears when he bowed his head and prayed and thanked God that he could be free and start over with a slate wiped clean.
I don’t want to “be God” to my kids. I don’t want to simply be the.final.authority. I don’t want them to fear retribution but rather accept consequences laced through with grace and life-lessons of compassion and forgiveness. Because that is the thing we parents do over and again: forgive. And that his what we need to do. In the midst of all the responsibilities and privileges of parenting, the most valuable thing we can offer is forgive, forgive, forgive just as our Father forgives, forgives, forgives us.