Thursday, May 20, 2010

When Children Fail

The wind was our first hint that the morning might be blustery. Whirling, twisting the new green buds, it blew stronger than a normal spring breeze.

At the kitchen table, all three children sat/stood/climbed/shouted/triumphed over a rousing game of Candyland with Papa. Sugs was well into the lead, only two squares away from the candy kingdom, and a victory dance that would surely annoy her siblings and charm her parents...when she flipped the devastating card.

There's nothing jolly about this card unless you are on the Start of the game board. This was definitely not Sugs position.

That big, fat blue gum drop smiled a goofy smile at her.

Her three-year old shoulders slumped as Papa gently slipped her game piece backwards on the board. Back, back, back went her piece. And quiver, quiver, quiver went her chin.

I wiped my hands with a dishtowel and stepped away from the kitchen sink. With her hair covering her face, Sugs tried to hide her emotions, the first time I had ever seen her do this. Real Gil did his best to comfort her with his one empty hand rubbing her back quietly so as not to embarrass her, while the other two children continued the game. It didn't help matters when the Little Man won the game only seconds later and started shouting, "I won! I won! I won!"

Sugs leaned towards me, her silent tears releasing in loud wails on my shoulder. I scooped her up, folder her into my arms. We snuggled and I held on to her tightly, held on to the rare moment of vulnerability from my introverted middle child. Then I told her a story. It came back to me like it was only yesterday...

Standing in front of the middle school girls' locker room door, old and wooden and beaten up. (The door, not me.) On the other side of that door were the squeals and loud voices of preadolescence. I looked up at the door and felt small, insignificant. Especially when I saw The List, posted with handwritten names on college-ruled lines. The cool girls, the athletic ones, always made the volleyball team. After a handful of after-school tryouts, I was realistic about my odds of making the team, but still hopeful. Perhaps...maybe this year...

I read the names and shrugged through the locker room doors. Sighing into my school-issued PE t-shirt and shorts, I felt the sting. Not a terrible one - after all, I had done very little to improve my odds of making the volleyball team - but it was a sting nevertheless.

Almost twenty years later, with three-year old tears puddling on my shoulder, I whispered the story, recalled the sting of failure.

"I looked at the list..."

Sugs sobs quieted.

"And my name wasn't there."

Sugs breath was warm on my neck.

"I wasn't chosen." I shrugged my shoulders, even still a little bit embarrassed.

"Why, Mom?" piped Punkin from the kitchen.

I was quiet for a moment, then spoke into Sugs hair.

"Maybe so I could comfort your sister right now...or maybe so my twin sister could find some independence apart from me on the team...or maybe because I just wasn't good enough at volleyball."

We all smiled, even Sugs. And I squeezed her tight.

"But even though I wasn't chosen then, I am chosen," I mumbled into her hair, quietly but resolutely. "So are you. If God had a volleyball team, I'd be on His list. And if God has a Candyland game, you win, Sugs. Every time."

She pulled back and looked at me. My deep, spiritual thoughts were lost on her, except that she would win boardgames in Heaven. That's okay.

Again, I was reminded today that some of the deepest hurts my children have revealed have come when they have failed - caught in a lie, stumbled over their script lines in a public play, overlooked in art class...lost at Candyland. As much as my mothering instinct wants to protect them from failures, if those failures are what is needed in their little growing lives, then I will do my best not to get in the way. Bailouts of all kinds abound and I'm often tempted to offer my own bailouts to my children. But as we often see in retrospect, bailouts are not always wise. So, Real Gil and I are praying for our children, loving on them whenever we can, and trying to remain available when they fail, not keeping it from happening.

I pray that there isn't a safer place on earth than our home for them to fail. And grow. And look forward to Heaven, where failures are no more...and everyone will pump fists in the best victory dancing ever.

Resting Despite My Own Failures Because of His Perfect Victory,


Kim said...

I love this post. It is really beautiful. I thought it was amazing how you took your daughter's little feelings so seriously, and used it to really teach her something. And I think stuff like that sticks in their minds more than you know. I know sometimes I worry because we don't have time set aside for lessons or bible reading with our little guys. Sometimes, though, my son will do something that should make me livid, but instead of yelling I find myself telling him I forgive him... and that Jesus does too. It is spontaneous and real and I have a feeling it affects him more than the most meticulously planned bible readings and crafts. And I think somewhere in her mind your daughter will really remember this moment.

Great writing!

WildCrazy said...

That's precious, Karen.