Here’s the song reference.
Bugaboo, bless her heart, is acutely conscious of the fact that she is the eldest of four siblings. We do our level best to ensure that she is accorded privileges that correspond with the responsibilities that attend her place in the birth order, and try just as hard to ensure that the privileges only come when she demonstrates appropriate responsibility.
Of late, Bugaboo has developed a tremendously irritating habit of trying to order her younger siblings around, sometimes contradicting what Manie or I just finished telling said siblings to do. It’s rude to her siblings and disrespectful to her parents, and she nearly gave poor Deedaw a stroke Sunday night when she told her little brothers to go outside after, with Bugaboo standing there, I had told Mr. Man and Baby Guy that the mosquitoes were too thick for them to play outside any more that evening.
Bugaboo and I had a quiet little conversation this afternoon about what my job is and what her job is. I explained to her that my job is to make sure that everyone gets along with each other, that the house doesn’t get condemned by the health department, that everyone learns those things that are needful to know, and that there are never shortages of hugs, kisses, prayers, or stories in our family. I also explained to her that her job is to learn, to treat everyone the way she wants to be treated, and to set a good example in such things as proper mealtime behavior, decorum in church, and doing chores without an overabundance of complaints. After answering a round of sour-faced objections from Bugaboo, I reminded her of the prayer she has heard me utter aloud a thousand times, usually when dealing with some incident of familial foolishness that has caused me to plead for God’s peace and mercy, to wit: “Lord, help me remember that I do not want Your job.” I explained to her that, in the fullness of time, she will likely have charge of a household, a budget, a career either at home or outside it, perhaps children of her own, and that when that day came, she would wish for the responsibilities of a six-year-old girl again.
I hate it when I sound like my mother. It seems to happen with increasing frequency.
The rest of our afternoon was cheerful and peaceful; we sang a little bit, read a really good book about the Anasazi, and folded a couple of loads of laundry before the tribe decided Smudgie really needed to chase a tennis ball around the yard for a while. While I worked on dinner for the tribe, Deedaw and I talked on the phone; our conversation turned to Bugaboo, her bossiness, the manner in which she barks her orders, and how frustrating it is for us to constantly have to correct her. In her gentle but direct way, Deedaw pointed me to one of the roots of the problem, “Please don’t be upset with me, but she sounds a lot like you.”
I may have mentioned before our family has been graced with elders who possess extraordinary wisdom.
Deedaw is one of them.
Life has had a higher-than-usual insanity quotient in our family over the past several months, and, if I spent a few minutes at the keyboard, I could generate thousands of words’ worth of excuses for why I’ve not guarded my tongue more carefully with the tiny people, why I’ve too often spoken to them in a tone more suited to a drill sergeant badgering a group of recalcitrant recruits, why I’ve neglected to take the time to model the Golden Rule with them. All the verbiage in the world, though, would still be an attempt to weasel around the fact that I’ve been less than gentle with the tribe, and thus has set a poor example that my most priceless mirror has reflected back at me.
Deedaw and I talked a little longer, and I thanked her for loving me enough to point out my error, and for giving me the example of how to do it gently. She thanked me for loving her enough to see the love behind the correction, and for listening the first time the correction was given. As we ended our conversation, Bugaboo wandered into the kitchen, lured by the aromas of baked chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pineapple, to see if anything tasty might be in the offing yet.
“Something smells pretty yummy in here, Mommy. When’s dinner?” inquired my eldest, as she blocked my path from the sink to the stove.
I started to bark at her to get out of the way so I could drain the potatoes. Before I opened my mouth, I heard Deedaw’s wise counsel in my head.
“Dinner is just about ready; I just have to drain the potatoes and get the chicken out of the oven. It would be a big help if you could let Beanie, Mr. Man, and Baby Guy know we’re almost ready to eat and everyone should get washed up. Could you do that, and use your nice voice, please?”
Bugaboo plowed into my legs and hugged me hard. “Sure, Mommy!”
I returned her embrace, kissed her head, and said, “Thanks, Bugaboo, that’s a big help. By the time you all get here, dinner will be on the table.” She skipped off, happy in the difference between a departure and a curt dismissal.
Later that evening, the tiny people assembled in the boys’ room, as we do nightly, for a round of stories, songs, and prayers. While Baby Guy still requires major assistance with pajamas (and, of course, cannot change his own diaper effectively), Mr. Man is generally capable of dressing and undressing himself. The big fellow had managed to jig his way into his pull-up, but was experiencing technical difficulties with his pajama top, the neckline of which flatly refused to let go of the bottom hem. Mr. Man started pulling at the unruly shirt in various places, his voice becoming increasingly shrill as the fabric refused to obey his commands. I listened to him whining orders at his pajamas, and heard my own voice again. Instead of shrilling back at my whining son, I soothed, “Hold on, buddy, I’ll help you as soon as I have Baby Guy down from the changing table. You’re okay, and you did a good job getting that over your head.”
Bugaboo approached him, looked up at me, and inquired, “Mommy, is it okay for me to help him?”
“Absolutely, Bugaboo, please be careful so you don’t hurt each other.”
Very gently, Bugaboo put a hand on her little brother’s shoulder. “Hey, Mr. Man, I can help you get that unstuck. It’s okay, I used to get my jammies stuck sometimes, too. See, here’s the bottom of your shirt, I’ll help you get the back of it rolled down, see, now your belly will be all warm. All better?” As she talked, she had fixed the uncooperative top. Mr. Man smiled at her and answered, “Uh-huh. That’s better. Thanks, Bugaboo.”
I greatly preferred that reflection to the ones I’ve been seeing.
Today’s prayer: Lord, thank You for the four little blessings with whom You have graced our marriage, and for the wisdom of older family members who, instead of helping me make excuses for my shortcomings, gently point them out and continue to love me in spite of them. Thank You for the reminder that however we train up our children is the way they will go when they are grown, and that You charge us with being constant teachers when You gift us with children. Please send me the grace to teach them that gentle words turn away wrath, and that the wise listen to good counsel when it is offered. Help me show them that allowing someone to persist in error instead of offering gentle and loving correction is no love at all, but an indifference that offers insult to Your commandment that we love one another.