We Are All Mooches

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.

Symphony

No one’s as tough and strong as He

Reading to Plum is one of my most treasured rituals. Every evening we select books, curl up on the couch and begin the winding down process. The number and style of books depend on his mood, energy level, activities of the day. We may focus on our nature magazines that come monthly if we have been especially vested in outdoor exploring that day. Maybe a book on sharing or waiting or manners if we need a bit of back up in those areas. Books that garner laughs are always read first as we ease into his own awareness that, yes he actually is tired. We have upstairs books, next to his bed for the serious sleepy portion of reading, books that reinforce my love for him and God’s even bigger love. Those are the books he drifts off to, our love books we call them.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016 brought a change to our routine. We had the television on. I was hyped, preparing for celebration, lamenting that I hadn’t bought any champagne. Plum asked many “what if’s” but I assured him that all was well. His kindergarten classroom held their own elections, choosing either cats, dogs or spiders. He proudly wore a sticker home that showed he voted. I knew this sticker would go in his forever box, one that holds all his baby stuff and memorabilia. He would want that someday, the day the first woman was elected president. He told me which real candidate all his friends were voting for, said with pride that he has talked some who were unsure into picking “Hillary Quinton”. He explained his reasoning, he was afraid of Trump, thought he would tear up peoples houses and take their money. I did some fact-checking on that but knew he had been exposed to ideas out-side of my control now that he attends school and plays with children at his apartment with mama. He rides buses, he hears things. Still, I knew that his fears would be laid to rest this evening, he would wake up to history and the anxiety of a bully as the president would be over.

We read our books, upstairs and down, but still he was too full of questions to drift right off as usual. Certainly he was picking up on my excitement, I tried to breathe more evenly, focus more determinedly. Slowing my cadence with each page, I settled us back into the security of his bedroom, his blankets, his slumber. I then raced downstairs to begin the celebration that turned to utter devastation, a heartache that just felt too unbelievable to absorb. With our string of unimaginable losses I chided myself for not expecting this, bitterness rising up with the bile in my stomach. I couldn’t imagine how I would explain to this child in the morning what I didn’t understand myself. How could I express confidence when I couldn’t stop crying?

Morning came, I waited for his questions. They didn’t come. He had trusted me that much.  I woke Chef to help me find the words. I avoided my Plum, drive by breakfast drop, tossing school clothes into the bathroom as he prepared for his shower, constant motion so that my eyes never met his. Finally the moment arrived, the talk happened. I delivered news and made it light, easy, no worries. I feigned confidence I didn’t feel. He asked why? Why did Trump win? Why didn’t people vote for Hillary? What happens if Trump tries to hurt kids? We talked about how he has parents and grandparents and teachers and if anyone tried to hurt him has lots of people he could tell.  Our government is the same. No one person is in charge, there are others around who will make sure that the rules are fair. Using his Pokemon cards as an example, I said what if grandma decided you could no longer have those? You would tell mom, right? She would overrule me and say yes he most certainly can have his cards.  And gran would have to listen to mom. He got the lesson. Then my sweetest Plum in the voice of an angel told me, “Anyway, God is the most powerful.”

We read “Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site” by Sherri Duskey Rinker on the nights we really need help slowing down, we need the gentle cadence of the story that reminds us to put each “toy” away. The story really is like child relaxation, one construction vehicle at a time. I confess to a story edit each time we come to the bulldozer. This piece of machinery is described as such, “No one’s as strong and tough as he.” I always remind Plum that of course God is stronger. He probably thinks it is part of the book. Those words spoken as he relaxes into me, resting on my lap, allowing the day to slide into night, have taken hold in his mind and heart. He knows who is the most powerful. Not the steamroller, not the bulldozer, not even the president.

I will continue educating this child, he will continue reminding me of truths. The most Powerful is still our leader. I know this and rest in this.  We are going to keep working on making sure God’s work is done, regardless of who sits in the Oval office. The One who died on the cross doesn’t change every 4 years, knows no political party, doesn’t need to reach 270 electoral votes. We are Christians and we will keep reading our books to the children and serving God’s people and feeding the hungry and giving refuge to persecuted.   Our work may have just gotten harder but we were never promised an easy walk.  If someone tries to take your “Pokemon” cards, let me know. I am ready for the fight.