I was sitting at my desk with baby El on my lap. He was squirming and grabbing for my pens while I was trying to type. I knew something smelled funny. I knew I should have checked. But I felt lazy, so I didn’t.
Five minutes later, I look down to find green goodness that had escaped its highly-absorbent home, making its way all over my white shirt. Praises.
What a kid. You look at him and he smiles. You wave and he smiles. You chase him on the floor and he smiles. It might be one of the most wonderful feelings in the world to have that big, beaver-like, toothless smile telling me how funny I am.
We watched him for a week in October. He can crawl, but he can’t quite figure out walking. He swallows up bottles without a breath in between his gulps, but he’d have no idea how to prepare one. He’s good at pooping, but not so good at taking care of the mess. For all of his inability, others have to pick up the slack. He is so dependent.
I was holding him at one point, just thinking about the comparison between us. I feel guilty when I ask people for anything. It’s embarrassing when I need my mom’s help to get up on time. I sit in my seat whenever others drive me around and I look out the window, imagining myself in an 800-pound body, weighing down the car and costing the driver exorbitant amounts of gas money. Even as I write this, I’m only detailing my less embarrassing deficiencies so that you, the reader, won’t have a worse opinion of me.
Does El ever think that way? No. His mind isn’t that complicated. He has needs, he communicates them as best he can, and then he smiles when his needs are met. If I have needs, why don’t I just communicate them and receive what’s given with joy?
Why do I let my ego complicate things so much?
It’s all in the name. Z is basically a superhero. He flies peacefully through the streets of our living room with his cape (blankie) faithfully trailing him. He wears bright colors and has this wonderfully swoopy hair like real superheroes do. His great enemy is everything orderly. He stares it down before hurling all of his righteous strength towards its destruction. And oh, he destroys it. The trains, the balls, the picture frames, the magnets; nothing can stop him.
When he isn’t on such a campaign, Z is kind and quick to give hugs. He loves his big sister and watches out for his little brother. He loves to snuggle and read stories. He is one of the most obedient, helpful children I’ve ever known. On his way to bed one night, grandma (my mom) asked him to say goodnight to me. He dropped his blanket to the ground, leaned his head on my shoulder, and said “Goodnight!” His mouth was kind of closed while he said it, so it sounded more like “Guhnighhhh”, and it was adorable.
Z challenges me by how he loves people. Oftentimes, I feel incapable of displaying affection. I don’t know why that is. Maybe I’m scared of being vulnerable. Maybe I live in a culture that teaches us to suppress emotions so we don’t come off as clingy. Maybe I’m arrogant and too self-reliant to admit that others provide for me in ways that I simply cannot provide for myself.
But Z isn’t that way. He gives hugs and smiles and cuddles to everyone around him. He hasn’t put up walls to keep himself safe from hurt. He just shares and gives and loves.
Why do I let pride keep me from just being thankful?
She’s a three-year-old girl, with all of the glorious determination that age can hold. One night, she was in the living room with my brother (one of her other uncles) when he asked her to clean up the plastic balls. It wasn’t a huge job, but she decided she wasn’t going to do it. I heard all of the commotion. The pleas for obedience, the no’s, the “this isn’t how a big girl acts” speech, the tears, and everything in between.
I was studying in one of the bedrooms when she walked in. Her face was bright red from all her tears, and she just kept sniffling and looking at me, hoping for some mercy.
I knew that I could have sobbed with her and told her how sorry I was for her mean uncle. I could have gotten her to really like me and cling to me by saying that. But, I didn’t. There simply cannot be a “good cop, bad cop” game with children. If they’re hearing two different instructions, their only option is partial obedience: heeding the one while disobeying the other. Her full obedience to my brother was going to come from trusting him, and my speaking poorly of him would have killed any shot at that. So no, I didn’t apologize for her situation or cry with her or tell her how bad I felt that she had to be helpful.
But I did tell her how much I loved her. I told her that Jesus, and her uncle, and her mom and dad loved her even more than I. She bobbed her little head up and down when I asked her if she was sad. I told her the reason for her sadness was that she was choosing not to listen and that the best, most joyful thing she could do at that moment was obey.
How much more gently, how much more graciously, how much more patiently does Jesus work on our small, emotional hearts?
None of this is an example of how perfect and kind I am. There are many more stories of my imperfections and lacking kindness. No, this was a moment where Jesus sought to be kind to ‘Quoia through me, reaching out and helping her remember that His love is what inspires goodness and obedience.
It’s crazy that a three-year-old responds to love, care, and honesty better than I do. I respond to love by questioning people’s motives. I respond to care by ignoring people because they’re too difficult to care for in return. I respond to honesty by getting people to keep talking so that I don’t have to be honest back.
Why do I shut my ears to those that would care about me?
It took a few minutes, but she did put those plastic balls in their bucket. ‘Quoia responded so simply: she listened and she obeyed. I hope that, somehow, she remembers that moment: her obedience being rewarded by watching Daniel Tiger on the couch with her brothers, and by a better trust in the love of Jesus.
The example these kids set is so precious to me. Sure, they require sacrifice. Yes, they ask for a lot of attention. And it’s true: sometimes they poop on me. But they’re also more honest than every adult I’ve ever met. They’re more humble than I will ever be. They are more responsive to others than I ever have been. I just want to be more like them.
God, please have mercy on my prideful heart so that I might become like a child.