Grace and The “Innocents”

It was almost over before I knew it had even happened, my little friend running toward me in tears and the other’s mother huffing and puffing angrily where he’d been standing.  “I didn’t do it!” he cried, and I believed him, deducing that the crying preschooler being fussed over by the angry woman must have fallen when my little friend stood on the fence.

“You don’t DO that!” she snarled, and then, “You are a very naughty boy!”  My little friend cried harder and protested louder and swore he didn’t do it.

Oh, I burned!  But I turned my attention to my friend and consoled, “I know it was an accident.  It will be okay.  Why don’t we apologize to the little boy?”

The mother, still muttering, had stomped off behind me and I immediately thought better of my suggestion.  She – this competent, grown woman – had used her words, tone and expression to harm my little friend, and although an apology was appropriate she was pitifully volatile and hateful.  I wished I could take my words back so my little friend wouldn’t have to interact with her a moment longer.  My little friend was eager to apologize, though, and unlike some children didn’t require even a moment’s coaxing.

Thankfully, once her own child had stopped crying, she was able to tersely thank my little friend for his apology, and then she disappeared into the crowd of people.  Which may have been all the better because I had things to say to her.  I had the courage to say them, too.  The only thing missing was the opportunity, a chance where I could have told her…

|| You don’t hate on a child with your words.

|| You don’t ever call someone else’s child naughty, especially publicly.

|| You give children the benefit of the doubt and treat them the way you’d want your own child treated.

Here’s the thing.  My little friend?  Has an exquisitely sensitive heart.  I’ve seen him dissolve over a performance that was perfectly good – age appropriate and on par with his peers.  But it wasn’t what he wanted it to be and he cried hot tears of self-inflicted shame over what he thought he should have been able to do.  He struggles sometimes.  He’s a little different.  And the last thing he needs in his life is rejection, failure and hate.  Especially over an accident.

She didn’t know what she did, but the mama bear in her got it all wrong.  I bet she won’t remember her careless words after a night’s sleep.  My little friend might not, either, but they made an impression, and that won’t fade easily.

Here’s the other thing.  My reaction?  Graceless.  Everything I wanted to say to her I need to say to myself.

|| Heidi…you don’t hate on another human being with your words.

|| Heidi…you don’t ever publicly call someone out for naughty behavior. Talk openly?  Yes.  Not rudely confront.

|| Heidi…you give others around you the benefit of the doubt and treat them the way you’d want to be treated.

As I’ve been purging myself of pessimism and replacing it with a more hopeful, sunny disposition I’ve gotten better at grace.  Not just showing it, but really feeling it.  The person who cut me off in traffic?  I don’t know him, don’t know his story.  Maybe he had a horrible morning.  Maybe he’s going through a divorce.  Maybe he’s on his way to the hospital.  Maybe he’s just an angry person because of years of pain.  I don’t know and I don’t have to know, but I don’t automatically label him a bad person anymore.

The stranger who screamed, “Bitch” at me while I ran? Could have been a lot of things.  Maybe I looked like his ex-girlfriend.  Maybe he hated his stepmother.  Maybe he just feels better about life when he curses at people.  I can forgive and extend concern and hope toward him in my heart because I know that I don’t know.

I don’t have that same grace, however, when I see people act contemptibly toward children.  Anger festers in my heart and I just can’t let it go.  And on one hand, some good comes out of that anger because children aren’t supposed to protect themselves; we have to do it for them.  On the other hand, it’s never good to hold onto anger – even justifiable anger.  If I am to fully embody grace, hope and optimism I must learn to do so even when it’s challenging…

even when I have to speak difficult truths…

even when a situation requires firm boundaries…

Gabe used to attend a little preschool program once a week, and in all of his quirkiness he kept the teachers on his toes.  One of his favorite things to do?  Go by different names, usually names of beloved book or television characters.  For a while he was Wilbur (a la Charlotte’s Web), then Mickey (as in Mouse), and the longest running one was Jerry, courtesy of Tom & Jerry.  He loved that little mouse so much he wanted to be that little mouse and play glorious pranks on Tom and finally triumph over the cat.  Therefore, across the top of all of his papers, and in red – always red – crayon, he predictably scrawled “Jerry” each and every time.

Usually his teachers let it go, even calling him Jerry at his request (insistence?); in fact, one substitute teacher eventually told me how strange she’d thought it that someone named their child “Jerry” until she realized what was happening.

One fateful day when I knew he’d been using his stubbornness to give his teachers a run for their money I decided to pop in and check on him.  As I turned the door handle and observed the teacher standing over his spot at the table while he scribbled “Jerry” across the top of the coloring paper I heard her say, and loudly enough to be heard from across the room, “Gabe!  You are being a very! bad! boy! today!

And I sort of lost it.

But only on the inside.

My child – and other children – were watching.

“No, he’s not,” I said, and she looked up dumbfounded, unaware I had entered the room.

“I…just…” she sputtered.

I don’t remember how she ended her sentence because in that time I had covered the distance from the door to his side and I leaned close and pored over his coloring and whispered in his ear that he was such a good, sweet boy and realized that my entrance into the room had disrupted him enough that I don’t think he had heard what the teacher said.


Because that kind of thing hurts a child as though the adult had taken a big, red permanent marker and drew “Xs” all over the story of his life and written “Poorly done!” or “Bad work!” or “You have some kind of gall handing in this sort of crap for me to grade!”  And it hurts the parent, too; her words hurt me, and I cried the same hot tears my little friend cried earlier today, because it hurts when adults mishandle children.

For the record, she was angry at him because he wouldn’t write “Gabe” at the top of the paper and insisted on writing “Jerry.”  That was it, his great transgression.

But still, I had to forgive her.  It didn’t happen right away and it helped when I had a conversation with her about her words and it helped knowing Gabe wouldn’t be under her care again.  But…grace.  It was as necessary for me to extend as it was for her to receive.

I know this – I want to leave the world a softer, more hopeful, more loving place for my children.

I want the world to be better for my having been here.

If…when…I give into my first instinct to lash out at people who’ve hurt an “innocent” I accomplish nothing.  I counter inappropriateness with anger and volatility with hate. I add negativity to the world in which my children are growing up, and I own my adversary’s victory.

What if I counter those things with grace?  What if I let my budding optimism and hope make my eyes smile even when I’m speaking a difficult or challenging truth?  What if I give the benefit of the doubt even when I’d rather attack – even when that attack is deserved?  What if I own the hurt, fear and frustration behind my anger rather than letting my anger speak for itself?

I’m not sure I’ll ever rewire my first instincts to embody only measured, graceful thoughts.  I’m not sure optimism will ever be entirely second nature.  Perhaps that’s okay, though.  Maybe I can learn to extract from that energy the courage it requires to take a gracious stand while leaving behind the initial blustery anger.

I think that’s what people like Gabe and my little friend really need in the world.

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  1. Great lessons and ideas. I need to practice this more too.
    Laura´s last blog post ..Sharing a Room

  2. Heidi, this is a stunning piece of writing and touches my heart in so many ways…Gabe and Builder boy are so much alike that they would most definitely be the best of buds if we lived anywhere near one another. Grace is a constant struggle of mine, especially in situations with my son. you want to protect, defend, shelter, but to find the way to do so with grace is a challenge.
    Renovation Girl´s last blog post ..If These Shower Walls Could Speak

  3. Amanda Duda says:

    I have been on the same road, sister. Just last week as I watched a boy three years older than E punch him in the groin on the playground, it was only God that held me back from an inappropriate blasting. A blow so hard, I took off of work to take him to the dr. which showed absolutely no damage. Not even a bruise (God’s protection). Grace was not my first reaction-that’s for sure. But God has grown me also in this to where I feel so sorry for this young boy who doesn’t know how to handle his anger without punching (there is a history with him I didn’t know about).

    Thanks for sharing your heart and where God is leading you. It’s great to see other Mom’s who struggle as well. 🙂

  4. Another awesome piece of writing and sharing your heart!! I need to learn this … and practice it! I love you!!

  5. Oh you made me think of when Dawson first started preschool,we could wait out in the hallway until the class was done and I could here them talking about Dawson…just left me feeling sad eventually I took him out I felt the teacher didn’t want to work with him and on his shyness,you know Dawson takes awhile to warm up!:)
    Sorry you had to deal with that I hope things get easier for both of us as both boys grow more mature well you know what I mean..

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