Can any parent claim to have the perfect child? Can any parent claim to be perfect? It cannot be so. Beautiful your child may be; ideal, in your own eyes, certainly. Yet even the best behaved of children misbehave betimes. At such times it is not uncommon for the parent to discover that in some manner he or she has brought about said misbehaviour either by imprecise admonitions or by modeling the misbehaviour before the child. Such was today's incident.
Ella (21 months) has entered the climbing phase. She proves to be very adept, which is only to be expected as both her uncle (my baby brother) and I spent hours in trees as children. Following lunch today, she made her way atop a diningroom chair found a pen and proceeded to colour on the grocery list. Had her artistic endeavours focused solely on the grocery list, neither her father nor I would have become displeased; however, she took her father's copy of The Message, and "cu-urd" (coloured) upon it as well: on the bottom right of the mustard-coloured cover, and on two of the interior "onionskin" pages.
To truly understand the reprehensibility of such an act, you must also comprehend my remarkably patient husband's disposition towards his books and, in particular, his Bibles. He does not write in his books, nor does he underline. They are neatly arranged on the shelves of his office and organised according to subject and author. He has actually considered devising a library system for them, as between his texts on Biblical studies, Biblical language, theology, and pastoral practice, and my own, they easily expand the bounds of every wall-to-wall shelving unit that our offices have provided.
My books, in contrast, are dog-eared, filled with copious notes, underlined, and highlighted, including (but not limiting to) my Bibles. Ella has on many occasions seen me writing in my Bibles and in other books. It is also significant that my husband and I have been endeavouring to train Ella that paper, and paper only is for colouring, as she has a decided interest in decorating any exposed skin with whatever writing implement is at hand (I am plagued with nightmares of her asking for a tattoo). Thus the admonitions, "Colour on paper!" and "Paper is for colouring!" are frequently heard in our home, unfortunately we have never yet added the addendum "But not paper in books!"
It was I who caught the miscreant as she wrote upon her father's Bible, one of two that he is never without, indeed I believe the reason he wears cargo pants and shorts with amazing regularity is so that he can place The Message and his other favourite Bible, a small, leather version of the NRSV in the large side pockets. With appropriately dour expression, I caused her to bring the now blue-lined Bible to her father, who was reclining on the couch recovering from teaching the nursery class at Daily Vacation Bible School. My husband, who looked for a brief moment as though he may burst into tears, regulated his face into a somber expression and said, "Oh no! No! No! No!" in a disappointed manner, and then glanced up at me to mouth the words, "What should I do?"
Punishment, as all parents know, is difficult to determine, and as different children have differing sensibilities, striking the balance between proper training and undue cruelty can be a harrowing task. It was evident that the "Oh no! No! No! No!" said by my greatly saddened husband was not having the desired effect, so Mummy added to his admonitions with, "Ella, no colour on Bible. Bad girl. Very bad girl," in a firm voice with the addition of a shaking finger.
It is now evident to all that I am not one to shy away from referring to my child as "bad." If my child does that which is good, do I not call her a "good girl?" Why then do we fear calling our child a "bad child" when they do wrong? Certainly, one hopes the good outweighs the bad, and as parents we must do all we can to encourage benevolent and gentle behaviour in our children; and naturally a parent must not focus on telling the child that they are bad or naughty over minor things, but on occasions such as this, when Ella has done something that, in other circumstances, could have seriously negative repercussions (many of our books are exceedingly expensive and difficult to find, not to mention the possibility of her "colouring" on another person's books), or that shows destructive or unkind behaviour, I do not hesitate to use the word, "bad."
The result of Mummy's scold was remarkable. Ella looked from book, to father, to mother, to book, realised our displeasure, and burst into tears. She ran to me, wrapping her arms about my legs, and said something incoherent. I held her away from me by the shoulders and told her, "You must tell Daddy you are sorry for being a bad girl. No colour on Bible anymore," after which she turned from me and crawled upon her father and laid down on him, crying and repeating, "Tory, tory."
Alas, what was there to say to that? My husband and I pressed our lips together to keep our amusement from showing as he told her, "Daddy forgives Ella. Daddy loves Ella."
What truly amazes is her comprehension of the term "bad girl." "Bad" is a complex concept, frequently subjective, and far from concrete, yet Ella knew she had done wrong, or at least that she had displeased her parents. I had not realised until today how powerfully Ella could be affected by such a little thing, but her tears were sincere, and her desire to repair broken relationship was instantaneous.
Is this what God sees as we error and as we sin? The sadness that my husband felt at the imperfection of his precious Bible? The measured response to a wrong that evaluates the transgression and must then appropriately rebuke in such a way as to train, but not alienate?
How much more joyous would God be if we responded as Ella? Would He be relieved if we recognised easily our sin, thus saving ourselves from greater punishment? Just as my husband and I were deeply moved by Ella's swift endeavours to ask for forgiveness and her outpouring of affection following the incident, would it not warm the heart of our Lord if we react to His admonitions by passionately throwing ourselves on His mercy, begging forgiveness, and striving to right our relationship with Him rather than begrudgingly following Him because we ought, while all the while resenting the boundaries He sets for us?
I must remember this, especially next time I find myself facing temptation!