It's easy to assume that kids who have conscientious parents don't pick on other kids. They don't bite their playmates at preschool. They don't make fun of misfits. They don't intimidate kids who are timid.
If you are one of the people who assumes these things, I have a few possible explanations:
1. You don't have kids.
2. Your kid isn't old enough to show you what you're in for.
3. You have no idea what your kid does behind your back.
4. You control your kid’s life way too much.
5. Your are just lucky to have a super-duper compliant kid (and you probably don’t have very many of them, because the odds of getting a very compliant kid are rare, I’m telling you).
I have fit each of those parent profiles over the years. Each of my children makes me worry in their own special way. Much as I'd like to remove all opportunities for them to horrify me, I recognize that children need the option to make wrong choices every now and then (within reason!).Because my kids outnumber me 4 to 1, they have ample opportunity to make some really bad choices without my knowing. Last Halloween, one of them did just that.
It started in the typical way--roughhousing with a couple of friends at a party. One of the 8-year-olds whipped out some ninja moves. Another called upon some ideas gleaned from a recent video game. To make it more realistic, they focused their attention on the boy who would be easiest to beat up. (And very unfortunately, this kid also happened to be the son of one of my husband's unavoidable coworkers. Can you believe I relegated that detail to parentheses?) Play fighting soon turned into real fighting, and Lucas, the easy-to-beat-up kid was kicked in the ribs, his ear was smashed into the ground, and he took more than his share of kidney punches. His face told the whole story without his ever whispering a word to his mother.
She was the one who conveyed the story to me. Within a few minutes, I had located my son and was dragging him back home. Outraged as I was, I reminded myself to maintain composure as I delivered his sentence: no trick-or-treating.
If it hadn't been Halloween, I'm sure his howl of agony would have roused the neighbors. He sobbed uncontrollably when his dad and sisters left with candy baskets in hand. He might even have been sobbing inconsolably, but there's no way of knowing--I didn't try to console him.
Instead, I sent him to his room to cry it out. Later I let him return to the living room on the condition that he wouldn't try to convince me to remove his punishment and that he wouldn't otherwise verbally harass me.
Despite frequent interruptions from trick-or-treaters at the door, my boy and I actually had some great bonding time together that evening. We snuggled into the couch and talked about what he had done and what he hadn't done at the party. We talked about a lot of unrelated stuff too.
My son agreed that he should apologize to Lucas, even though (he claimed) his other friend had inflicted most of the damage during the beating. That friend actually showed up at my door at one point. Holding his bag out for loot, he asked where my boy was. Trying to be evasive in this semipublic setting, I answered, "He, uh, did something he wasn't supposed to do tonight."
"Oh, he can't go trick-or-treating for THAT?" he exclaimed. ". . . I didn't even get in trouble about it from MY mom."
Guess who got the lamest piece of candy in his Halloween bag for that response?
When my husband returned, my boy was ready to make amends for what he had done. Abu Halen made a couple of phone calls and arranged a meeting with Lucas that night.
Lucas was sitting on his porch when we arrived. Not one to waste time on small talk, my boy immediately apologized, saying that he was really sorry for what he had done. Lucas shrugged with a quiet, "That's okay."
Then my son offered Lucas one of his best matchbox cars. Because these are boys, the car was all it took to mend the friendship. They changed the subject and chatted happily as if they hadn’t both just experienced the worst Halloween of their young lives. Lucas's peacemaking younger sister even invited my boy to come along to a haunted house with their family.
Aren't kids awesome?
In the months that have passed, I've seen my son exercise greater caution not only with Lucas but with other children. I've even seen him defend other kids from his unpunished accomplice. Although I'm not proud of my son's mistakes, I'm proud of what he has learned form them. I think God feels that way about us all. I think He's disappointed when we do wrong but thrilled when He sees evidence that we've truly changed, because that's exactly the reason He gave us the opportunity to be alive.