The first reading at Mass on Sunday was the passage from Acts describing how the earliest faithful shared all they had with one another (Acts 4:32-35). It begins with, “And the multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul: neither did any one say that aught of the things which he possessed, was his own; but all things were common unto them.”
At the risk of being sacrilegious, I believe I can safely say there were no preschoolers among the early Christians.
As I’ve mentioned previously, sharing is a concept we’ll be working on at our house for quite some time. Sometimes the tiny people do it wonderfully well; I can give Bugaboo, Beanie and Mr. Man a bowl of snacks to share while they’re getting their evening Spider-Man fix, and there are few if any disputes over the treat in question. Given a pile of M&Ms, both girls will carefully count them off into three equal piles; if there are one or two left over, one of them will happily present them to Baby Guy, trilling, “Here’s a treat for yoo-oooo-ooou, Mister Baby Guy!” as they do.
The sharing thing gets a little murkier when it comes to playthings. I may have mentioned before that our kids have too many toys; their doting grandparents and occasionally overindulgent parents have seen to it that our house is decorated in early American LeapFrog/Little Tikes/Fisher-Price. In my mind, this should lead to no problem with toy sharing; Heaven knows there are plenty to go around, and each tiny person should easily be able to reserve a couple of things that are special to him or her without causing controversy among his or her siblings. The general rule we follow is that if you got it for your birthday, it’s all about you and you’re not required to share it (although everyone is happier if you do), but since Christmas is about sharing, you have to share those toys and games after you’ve had a chance to check them out for yourself. It may not be the best rule, but it has generally kept the peace.
However, as Bugaboo in particular has gotten older, her definition of sharing has gone slightly awry, to a point where she’s attempting to redefine it as “you don’t get to touch my stuff, but I get to play with all of yours.” This often takes the form of her offering to “help” her younger siblings play with a toy or use art supplies, and becomes really problematic when it brings her into conflict with Mr. Man. Our oldest son is two years old, and, while he has a pretty good vocabulary, he has a very short fuse, and when said fuse burns down, he tends to respond nonverbally. In other words, he will take the object of the dispute and whack his oldest sister with it.
Thankfully, Mr. Man is also a toddler with a very generous nature. Usually, if he’s playing with something and Bugaboo comes over and starts to play with it, he’ll simply scoot over and make room for her. However, if his markers (he is a huge fan of Crayola’s Color Explosion products) or one of his toys with a gajillion buttons is involved (like his phone or his scribble-and-write gadget), he is far less willing to let his oldest sister take over.
After Mr. Man finished his dinner last night, he wandered over to the art supplies corner, fished out his brand-new Color Explosion set that was one of his birthday gifts from Grandma, brought it to me, dropped the mylar package rustlingly into my lap and hopefully inquired, “Markers, please?” I sent him to sit in Daddy’s chair, removed four of the markers and one of the coloring sheets for him, then smiled as he gleefully set about removing the caps from all the markers and seeing what color each would make on the page. He kept up a running commentary as he experimented, chirruping, “Onge (orange) car, yellow car, bwown bwown bwown!”
Roughly ten minutes into his artistic endeavor, he realized that he had left his milk cup on the end table in the living room, and jumped off the chair to go retrieve it, bellowing, “NEED MY MILK!” as he thuddingly ran from the kitchen. Bugaboo had wandered back into the kitchen by then. Apparently, Mr. Man found a few interesting things to do in the living room, as he disappeared from view; I could hear the sound of cars zipping down the racing ramp and giggles from Baby Guy, so I decided to do some dishes.
As I turned on the faucet, I heard a chair move behind me, and turned around to see Bugaboo helping herself to Mr. Man’s markers and coloring page. The ensuing conversation went roughly like this:
“Bugaboo, those are Mr. Man’s markers and picture. Grandma gave them to him for his birthday.”
“I know. I just want to help him with it.”
“But he’s not here.”
“I know. Won’t he be surprised when he comes back and his picture is all beautiful?”
“Don’t you think he’d rather make it beautiful himself?”
“He’s not very good at making things beautiful yet. He’s only two.”
“His definition of beautiful might not be the same as yours. I think you should put the markers down.”
“But he’s not even in here!”
“I’m aware of that. However, the markers are still his. Remember what we’ve said about respecting other people’s things?”
At that moment, Mr. Man wandered back into the kitchen, brow slightly furrowed and staring rather hard at his oldest sister. After a moment’s hesitation, he moved quite purposefully over to the chair occupied by Bugaboo and clambered up onto the seat next to her. I shut the water off and prepared to engage in a mid-air rescue of whichever child took an impromptu flying lesson. With a bit of trepidation on her face and in her voice, Bugaboo inquired, “Mr. Man, may I color some of your picture?”
Silence. The “People’s Eyebrow” from Mr. Man.
Then he handed Bugaboo two markers and headed back into the living room.
I did not realize until I exhaled that I had been holding my breath the entire time.
It’s a tough balance to strike, when you’re talking about kids and stuff. Another mommy blogger wrote about this yesterday, this perplex of wanting them to have cool playthings, but wanting to make sure they’re not overindulged. When there is too much “stuff,” and the “stuff” comes too easily, we end up with spoiled kids who forget that we love people and use things — and that sometimes, part of loving people is NOT using their things.
In this instance, Mr. Man solved the problem for me by freely sharing what he had with Bugaboo. If he hadn’t come in when he did, there would have been an attempt by Bugaboo to debate the matter further, which would likely have ended with me simply taking the contested coloring materials away from her and inviting her to help me load the dishwasher. Sometimes, it’s very tempting to take the easy way out and say, “yeah, Mr. Man has moved on to something else, so you can finish coloring his picture.” That’s the wrong lesson, though, because that’s really neither sharing nor respecting other people’s property. That’s “I don’t see the owner of this thing, so I’m going to do as I please with it.”
Today’s prayer: Lord, You have given us four cheerful and playful blessings, who all take joy from adding a little extra color to Your Creation. Help me teach them that while toys are great fun, they’re better when they’re shared, and that if they want others to respect those toys they choose not to share, they must set the example of not taking the goods of others without permission, and without using coercion or subterfuge to obtain them. We would raise Your blessings to be honest and generous, Lord; please grant us the grace to show them honesty and generosity in all our dealings with others. You instructed us to share all we have in service to our brethren. Thank You for their kind hearts and nimble minds, and help us train them up to use their intelligence wisely and kindly.