My wife has been laid up for a week recovering from surgery, and her mom drove up from Ralph, Alabama to help out. Of course, “help out” pretty much meant, “do everything.”
Amy was in the bed, and I was slammed with two church services in one week on top of my typically hectic schedule when Grandmama checked in and took over like Michael Jordan. Family dirty laundry disappeared into the morning mist. The children received nourishment and attention, but not from me. “What happened to the mini-van?” Grandmama got out the shopvac and had her way till the Sienna cried mercy, and then she put it in a figure-four leg-lock. Now all the turn signals work.
On Monday, I came home from a meeting and went inside to check in. To the tune of every child’s anti-melody, I hear my son:
“You are a stooormtrooooper, but where is your maaaask? The diiiiinasaurs are coming and they are so aaaaangry.”
Then, from the window of Jonah’s room, I watched Grandmama pulling apart clumps of monkeygrass, planting each one in a row to border our front yard landscaping. This is too much. I leave Jonah to his time-defying musical and go grab my gloves.
Together, Grandmama and I raked aside the old mulch. We spread out and cut the black mesh groundcover until we reached two old thorny bushes that Amy detests. I got out my shovel.
About this time, my 5 year old boy bangs open the front screen door and carefully rushes down the porch stairs. He hollers, “Woah woah woah, dad! Wait for me!” In his raised right hand, I saw the the tiny orange shovel that came with his Home Depot tool set. Jonah, watching from his window, had seen me with my huge red shovel, and hatched a grand idea.
He tiptoed through and still trampled over the monkey grass and planted his shovel in the dirt beside the thorny shrub. “Oh, that’s great, dad!” And one tiny scoop was partially displaced. This went on for one or two minutes, and then he found the scissors and began to trim the grass in the front yard. I finished pulling out the shrubbery, Grandmama and I spread out the mulch, and we were all finished in time for dinner.
Later, this passing scene struck me as hugely significant. My son did not consider his own usefulness, rather, he was overcome with the desire to experience that moment with his dad.
As an adult interacting with other adults, this kind of behavior would be entirely inappropriate. Mature human beings do not impulsively join others in any activity without some kind of preparation or self-awareness. But as a son interacting with his father, it doesn’t get any better, especially on those rare occasions when I see past the task at hand and enjoy my son regardless of his performance.
There are people in my life who are supposed to love me no matter what. I want those people to care for me no matter how I act. If my actions need critiquing, I need to first know that I am loved. Not just nominally, but truly loved and accepted in that moment. Otherwise I am either crushed and defeated, or newly inspired to ramp up the effort to please. Both responses are evidence of a misunderstanding of the Gospel, but I reinforce that misunderstanding in my kids when I see their behavior first, and them second… which I am prone to do.
Thank God for the faith and resilience of children!