My Plum is heading into 1st grade, into more social situations and ever increasing peer relationships that will shape his choices and his thinking. Yet, for these last few moments of summer, he is under the sun as he rides his bike through the neighborhood streets, racing from one sprinkler to the next, a place I considered safe from bullying and “bad behavior.” The kids roam from yard to yard, a pack of suntanned wild creatures seeking cookies and slushies and new adventures from somewhat tired activities after 2 1/2 months of exploration. They know each other well. The intricacies of who is in and who is on the fringe changing on an hourly basis, coalitions established by age and fastest bike and coolest trampoline stunt, yet all still gather each morning to begin fresh, like the evening bath that removes sweat and bug spray and sticky streams of popsicle juice that somehow find a path from chin to armpit, disagreements are washed away. A perfect symphony of chaos, except one little girl, who brings drama and anger and name calling, who doesn’t join in, who seeks to divide and doesn’t like the unity. She may be our biggest summer lesson of all, our greatest preparation for the return of the school bus.
As we drove down the street, the backseat covered in carseats and singing children, she stood with arms crossed and gaze steady, disapproval emanating. Not allowed to join as we headed to a local water park, she didn’t want anyone else to go either. The kids remarked, “Oh no, Faith is mad again.” (No, her name is not really Faith, but she does carry a moniker that I pray she will one day fully live into.) The kids were acutely aware that she was disapproving of their choice and that there would be consequences, even as I tried to minimize the FAITH EFFECT. They sang, loudly, along with the CD of Vacation Bible School songs that blasted from the stereo, rejoicing in messages of God’s love for all and in His strength, but worried about what Faith would say when they returned. Throughout the day, her name popped up, such is the hold she has on the group, such is the oddity of one child who is outright mean and filled with anger rather than laughter. The children don’t know what to do with her. Already at nine, she is infecting a group with worry, undermining confidence and creating fear. One child.
Her payback was to call the little girls in the car “mooches.” Three bicycles raced up, proclaiming this insult and asking what it meant. Such an ugly concept, a particularly pointed jab hurled at two little girls who have so little and bless my Plum with friendship and giggles. Girls that come from a family with not quite enough food and broken down cars and clothes that haven’t carried a price tag in many years, these girls are the epitome of “inside focused.” This insult is not from a child. I just cannot believe that a 9 year old thought that one up alone, rather, a parent surely supplied some assistance. Dodging, weaving, I reminded them that we share what we have because none of it is really ours, it all comes from God, thus there can never be any “mooches.” Wondering allowed what they each share with the other, a list was generated, the insult minimized and play continued. Still, my heart hurt for them all, Faith included.
I don’t allow Plum to talk badly about her, we continue to invite her to play. His preschool instilled the message that all children are his friends and we never save seats, yet how do you also allow a sense of safety when a child is not being nice? Snuggled on my lap, ready for a literal heart to heart, he asked me why I thought she says mean things. I asked him why he doesn’t. My best boy was able to point to God, to all the people in his life who teach him about God’s love. Oh church, you came through at a critical moment. Yes, my boy, yes! You have a soul filled full of God and you know you have extra to share, without losing any for you. We decided maybe Faith doesn’t know that yet, that her soul is filled right now with jealousy and worry so she acts out of fear. That her focus is on outsides instead of insides. Plum decided he was most upset at her mom for not teaching her about God and how insides matter more, that her soul and heart belong to God and that everyone should be friends.
If we can take credit for giving Plum the tools for a fun-filled joyful summer, where memories are made and friendships strengthened, all within the construct of his growing faith, can we not hold accountable the parents of this child who creates disharmony? As long summer days are edging closer to early morning school bus pick ups, as we begin to think of crayons and pencils and new binders, I pray these kids remember that insides are most important and friends are everywhere, regardless of color or income or gender. I pray that Faith finds joy, true joy in relationships that include honesty and silliness, that her soul becomes filled with the One who made her. She is more than this, more than a summer lost to being on the outside, judging those who have little but laugh so much. Further, I pray that her parents find the One who created them, it is never too late. Teaching our children to love begins with accepting our own lovability. God loves even the ones who don’t know it yet, ones who name their child after something they are seeking and is right within their grasp.
Really, maybe we are all mooches, taking more than we can ever give, forgetting to be grateful for all the gifts we receive so freely. Maybe it isn’t an insult but a reminder to keep centered on our insides. Maybe today we will all make thank you notes to God and sign them “your loving mooch!” A little glitter, some stickers, lots of paint. Maybe Faith will join us.