Bugaboo and I had a bit of a struggle yesterday morning over, of all things, sight words. She was pretty adamant that she had forgotten all of the personal pronouns she’s been picking out of books since she was eighteen months old, and I was equally adamant that this was a required part of the day’s schoolwork. After a couple of hours of tears and demands on her part, and redirections and seating changes on my part, we finally got through the list just in time for lunch. I’m partly to blame for the problem; normally, I set the girls on their lessons while I’m making the morning phone calls (I check in with my mother and mother-in-law every morning, just to see how they’re doing and share the previous day’s funny grandkid stories), but yesterday, I opted to let them play during those conversations. Oops.
The morning’s dispute ended up being a periodic topic of conversation throughout the rest of the day; I overheard Beanie admonishing her older sister, “You shouldn’t be ugly to Mommy like that.” I chose not to bring it up, except during a quiet moment while Bugaboo and I were alone, reading a story together, when I asked her, “Honey, was it really worth all that? We could have had an extra hour of stories and maybe even a craft this morning.” She looked at me and sadly muttered, “No. I’d rather have the stories than a fight. And I’d much rather do a craft.”
After dinner, the tribe settled in for a long storytime and a big bowl of popcorn. One of the first books we read was Tomie de Paola’s The Knight and the Dragon. Mr. Man received the book for Easter, and when I bought it, I had assumed it was a retelling of the St. George and the dragon story; since Mr. Man’s given name is, in fact, George, it seemed like a fun and appropriate gift for the big guy. I was surprised to discover that it is a far gentler tale, and I’d encourage you to read the review linked above. At least half of the story is told solely through illustrations, and Bugaboo, Beanie, and even Mr. Man himself had a great time filling in the story in their own words. At the end of the story, Bugaboo asked me, “Mommy, why did the knight and the dragon want to fight each other?” I answered that they probably thought it was what they were supposed to do, since there are so many stories about knights fighting dragons, and even in the book, both parties found lots of books in their libraries about how to fight each other. She replied, “I’m glad they decided not to fight. I like that they opened a stand together instead.”
We read a lot more stories before we prayed, sang songs, and bundled the tiny people into their beds. That particular story, however, kept coming back to me, because it reminded me of our morning struggle with the sight words. Yes, Bugaboo needs to know her sight words; yes, she needs to learn to follow instructions; yes, she needs to learn that sometimes the tasks set before us are not our favorite things to do. That said, my job is to encourage and teach, and perhaps, in simply giving her a list of words and telling her to read them to me, then digging in my heels as stubbornly as she dug in hers, I taught her a lesson in inflexibility instead of the personal pronouns. There will, of course, be times where a certain thing has to be learned in a certain way; this morning’s vocabulary exercise wasn’t one of them, but because I insisted on making it so, it turned into a cause of strife. In Ephesians 4, I’m reminded that my words should be uplifting and edifying. Telling a little kid she’s being stubborn isn’t particularly edifying; it’s analogous to telling water it’s wet.
The lessons of the lesson were still on my mind this morning as I sat down to write, and it finally occurred to me why I couldn’t get the incident out of my head. I pulled up the Bible in another tab, and looked up St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Sure enough, there it was, right in the middle of chapter 3: “Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they may not become discouraged (Col 3:21).”
I’ve mentioned a couple of times that the kids and I have been studying the parable of the prodigal son. This morning, I’m the prodigal mommy, as I have been before and, I’m certain, as I will be many more times. By meeting stubbornness with stubbornness instead of a gentle turning, Bugaboo and I ended up as the knight and the dragon in Mr. de Paola’s excellent story — with one of our heads stuck in a rock and the other stuck high in a tree.
Today’s prayer: Lord, thank You for the means and talents to educate Your blessings individually, here in our home. You have given me tools, knowledge, and wisdom, and have granted me every grace when I have asked it of you. Please help me remember that each of Your blessings is a unique, small person, as You created no two of us alike, but all in Your image. When I try to insist that one of Your blessings must learn a certain thing in a certain way, please remind me that even You had to speak in parables at times, so that Your people could understand You. Thank You for the reminder from a friend that each of Your blessings has his or her own particular beauty, and that while part of the trust You have placed in me involves making sure they walk in Your ways, another part involves making sure they have an example of the love You give us, one they can see always before them.
Please, Lord, grant me the grace of knowing when to shut my mouth and let my actions speak. Thank You for little blessings who are quick to forgive, and please help me think quickly and speak slowly enough that I might minimize the number of words for which I need to be forgiven. Please infuse all of our lessons with the joy that comes from having You as my supervising teacher.