Forgiveness and Nineties Cartoons

It’s 111 degrees outside and the keyboard isn’t working—those are the excuses for why I haven’t posted anything in awhile. It’s probably fine—most of you are frolicking on beaches and shipping off to summer camps, if Facebook is to be believed. As for me and Thomas and Drew, we’re holed up in this apartment with the shades drawn to keep the heat out, eating frozen yogurt buttons and watching clip after clip of lightsaber duels and episode 9 of the Storykeepers. Summer is doing its thing, and so is Andrew.

Two things have developed recently—one is Andrew’s attitude. Son, if you’re twenty and studying abroad in Lithuania when I dig this up and send it to you, don’t worry about it—you were a mostly wonderful child. There were, however, those days when all you wanted to say was “no” and all you wanted to do was fuss and dig through the trash can. And on those days, you had to go to timeout. Those days lasted soooo long. And not just cuz we couldn’t go anywhere in the heat…

Another, more pleasant development recently has been Andrew’s interest in this old Christian tv show from the nineties called The Storykeepers.

He likes me to recite the intro for the show— “Rome…64 AD. The Emperor Nero has unleashed his fury against the…” I pause for him to yell it out—

“Christians!” (It sounds like ‘Chwischins!”)

It’s a great show with a very interesting premise—Christians in Rome, thirty years after Christ’s death and resurrection. They’re being persecuted and hunted down and thrown to the lions—they operate with safe houses and secret signals, and the cast is replete with double agents and smugglers and higher-ups in the senate or the palace who make escape attempts possible. The stories are interrupted every eight minutes or so as Ben, the protagonist, church leader and Jewish baker, repeats stories about Jesus’ life. His wife is a trim lady named Helena, and there’s an attractiveness imbalance between them…I guess cuz if you’re a Christian in Rome in 64 AD, you need to settle for whoever will follow you into the catacombs and certain death. I may be reading too much into a cartoon.

Anyway, Drew and I were watching this the other day before nap, and something very dramatic was going on. Antonius the miller had reported Ben to the ever-present antagonist: ruthless Centurion Nihilus. (This show had a lot of fun with names). Now, Nihilus was about to burn the bakery down with Helena and the children locked inside. Meanwhile, Ben and ex-centurion Tacticus were trying to decide what to do—Ben could surrender to Nihilus and be killed, or they could try their best to break the family out of the bakery before the sundown deadline.

So they dig through the catacombs. The music gets more and more dramatic, though, as we realize they aren’t gonna make it. (The last few episodes of this show got progressively darker.)

But alas, hope is not lost—Antonius the miller and his two beefy bodyguards arrive in time to finish the tunnel and save everyone. He had a change of heart after realizing what Nihilus was going to do.

“God bless you,” Ben tells the miller.

“No,” Antonius replies contritely, “God forgive me.”

I turned to Drew and made him repeat that line a couple of times— “God forgive me.” His eyes were fixed on the drama. The bakery was burning and Ben was concluding sadly, “We can no longer stay in Rome,” as his family and various other Christian fugitives made their way through the catacombs offscreen.

“Forgiveness, Drew, means… ‘I’m sorry.’ Or…don’t punish me. Or…like…STOP punishing me…”

He’d stopped paying attention long before, luckily, because I was at a complete loss. I couldn’t explain it to him.

So I started thinking about it, because forgiveness is a tricky concept—and not just for toddlers who haven’t asked. Adults are always defining and redefining it, trying to make it hurt less. Because if you have forgiveness, you have somebody doing something to someone else. And it’s not always like The Storykeepers…most of the time there aren’t such clear-cut heroes and villains in life. Just people being inconsiderate or mean…or being toddlers.

This really bothered me the other day, because I was trying to sketch out this post, and I was also having a rough day, Andrew-wise. He gets bored when he can’t go outside, and he gets tired but he doesn’t want to nap because he might be missing something in the next room. And when he doesn’t nap, he’s…well, just imagine if you were stuck in a couple of rooms with the same stuff over and over again, but you had to ask permission for everything because you were barely more than a baby and didn’t know how to use anything safely. He must get so annoyed with me. Maybe that’s why he hits, or why he gets so frustrated and throws things.

He threw a maraca (or a “shaky-shaky”, as he calls it) into his father’s coffee mug the other day. Hot coffee splashed everywhere. I think I screamed, I was so scared of Thomas getting scalded. Everything was ok, but I immediately picked Drew up and deposited him in time-out. He began to whine.

“No!” I retorted, not realizing in my raised-adrenaline that I wasn’t responding TO anything since he wasn’t SAYING anything. “You will NOT throw things when you don’t get your way! You could’ve burned your daddy—you can just sit here.” I stomped into the room to change my shirt (it was coffee-stained; Andrew managed to splash everything but himself) and got a glimpse of myself in the mirror.

I am just the worst, I thought. He’s not twelve, he’s two—the fact that coffee is hot doesn’t even occur to him. He doesn’t know about burning. He doesn’t know anything except “I want, I don’t want”. It’s MY job to teach him those things, not freak out like a toddler myself.

But we forget. I say ‘we’ because I don’t think I’m the only one who forgets that toddlers don’t know how to stop themselves. They have one-track minds. They need to be forgiven. They need things to be forgotten…sort of. He needs me to come back in there in two minutes and explain things to him kindly because he genuinely didn’t know what would happen. Two minutes, so he doesn’t forget—the relationship needs to be restored in two minutes. And it’s hard because two minutes isn’t that long to get your act together when you’re mad. I hope I’m not the only one who gets mad.

I know empirically that I’m not the only one who feels this way, but as with many things about motherhood, I’m at a loss to remember when I’ve heard anyone talk about it. Sure, kids get on their parents’ nerves. But when have I heard someone talk about “forgiving” a young kid?

Maybe it’s kind of taboo—we don’t want to talk about our little ones being sinful. Although Andrew isn’t aware of malice or cruelty, he is a sinner; I can tell already. He’s selfish and has a temper. He’s even tried his hand at lying once. I was upset, but I was mostly wondering if that meant he was a genius.

You can’t talk about a toddler’s intentions, because their intention is to get what they need to stay alive and to do whatever they want. That’s just where they are. That’s how they learn. But that kind of…innocence, I guess?…still hurts. You can’t expect anything more from them, but it’s still wrong. It has to be corrected and that’s my job, but it also hurts to get hit in the head with a lightsaber. And if something is wrong and it hurts, I have to forgive.

This all feels a little confusing, but I said early on that I wasn’t going to sugarcoat my life on this blog. Andrew isn’t perfect and neither am I. He hits his mama with stuff sometimes, and I get mad at him. He’s sleeping and growing right now, but I’m in here trying to figure out how to help him be a good man. That necessitates me being a good mom.

Hey, I wanted to have a child—and this IS a site for grown-up adults. This is pretty grown-up.

Before we returned to the sweltering south, we took our annual summer vacation up in Massachusetts with Thomas’s family. I already miss the trees. We had this one picturesque, 70 degree day where we all went for a walk.

We walked on this trail that used to be where the railroad ran—like everything else in New England, it cuts through the trees and winds around hills. And everyone was out that morning—kids and their parents, couples and their dogs, people on bikes. It would be a great place to take Scoot, I concluded.

I stopped at one point as we went over a bridge. I leaned over the side and looked down at the cars ambling along to the center of town. I had that feeling you get when you follow one car with your eyes until it turns a corner—your lives touch, ever so slightly—and maybe you’ll never see those human beings again, or know anything about them. I would’ve pondered that for a long time if we weren’t going to stop for donuts. That’s another thing about Massachusetts—GREAT donuts.

People crossed our path and rushed by on our left. We went over bridges and walked along the river. All the while Andrew sat in the stroller, sucking his thumb and talking about donuts. We eventually arrived at the most perfect playground, and he became a climbing, running, sliding picture of happiness.

I wondered if Andrew missed out on seeing the sights because he had so little perspective—from the stroller, all he saw was what was in front of him. Sometimes that was just his cousin. At one point, somebody brought a dog around for him to pet. But for him, it wasn’t a series of bridges on top of busy roads and intersecting lives—it was a ride in a stroller to the park, and in between there were donuts.

And I started to think about God, and how he knows, as well as I know my own life, the lives and situations of all those people in all those cars…and what brought everyone to the park that day. I thought of how little we really know about other people, and about what makes them do what they do.

I can say this largely because I’ve lived a life without a lot of unkindness. Sure, people have broken my heart…but some of those times I met them halfway. I have myself to blame for most of my sadness, but sure, I’ve had to forgive. It was harder before they’ve put me on Lexapro, but I’ve done it.

And one of the people I end up having to forgive a lot is myself. Because I have this idea in my mind of what a perfect person, a perfect mother, would look like—and I don’t think it’s biblical. Like many other ideals, it’s shaped by advertising. And this means I spend a lot of time pondering what the Bible says about parents and children, because as my father says, “God will meet you at the point of your reality, not the point of your fantasy.” But I’m not even close to biblical parenthood, and unlike perfection in the world’s eyes, lights and mirrors do nothing for you.

I know it’s my job to train Andrew up in the way he should go…and to not exasperate him…and to teach him to love the Lord. And I know I need to show him how to pray, and how to forgive.

And I know the first person he’s going to have to forgive is me. Not because I wasn’t some perfect image of a mother from a book or a commercial, but because I got mad.

It’s a cyclical idea I’ve been having, and maybe the heat has something to do with it—God shows you when you’re young that you aren’t perfect, and you have to ask for forgiveness. First from other people, then from him. But he also lets you see the imperfection in other people, and sometimes it tears you up.

I don’t like to write about people who have hurt me, but I have them, same as everybody else. So you have to forgive, but you also have to ask forgiveness when you see yourself hurting someone…and that’s the way it’s supposed to be, I guess…because as C.S. Lewis says, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

At the moment, I’m being pushed towards perfection like every other Christian—and it’s in the form of a two-minute time-out limit. When Andrew hits me for the millionth time, and goes to time-out for the millionth time, and I find myself once again counting how many more hours are left in this day, I still am held to the standard of forgiveness—two minutes, and I have to be in there and I have to honestly and compassionately say, “Drew, I can’t let you hit because it hurts. I love you.”

When you think of how God instantly forgives, it makes it easier. And that’s what I have to think about, because if I think about how Andrew will need to forgive me for so many things down the road, it feels too daunting. Luckily I can’t read people’s minds—I don’t know how many people I’ve accidentally hurt, and maybe it’s good that we don’t. Maybe we are, all of us, just kids with one-track minds on a walk in the park. It’s for God to see everything else…we just need to get where we’re going with a minimum of disobedience. And trust he’s forgiven us.

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