It was a rough start to the school year if you’ve been following my life in the middle of the Madness! The Little Guy clearly was struggling with expectations for behavior. I don’t know if it was the stress of school starting back up, the increased academic pressures of third grade, or just a trial of flexing his eight-year-old will, but he and I clashed over the importance of telling the truth about his misbehavior. In turn, I had to flex my brain in keeping up with consequences for behavior – writing “I shall only speak the truth” two hundred times, grounding, missing Halloween and finally, the ultimate consequence (which only works in the winter holiday season) – you shall not receive any Christmas gifts other than socks and the traditional gift of a book.
To “Mr. Resilient” this didn’t phase him. One day on the way to gymnastics practice, he was flipping through the Target toy catalog that had recently arrived. He found a pen on the floor of the car and started describing the toys that he was circling in anticipation. I matter-of-factly reminded him that his only gifts under the tree would be empty boxes wrapped in wrapping paper (handy that the boys don’t believe in Santa) and he nonchalantly responded without pause, “Well, there’s always next year.” The circling continued.
I took every opportunity in late fall to remind him of behaviors and consequences. Lying to your mother is serious enough to miss Halloween, remember. And when you do it AGAIN, you miss Christmas. But any time you think up a consequence as a parent, you better be sure that you have the strength to pull it off. And gosh, Christmas is Christmas. That’s a tough one.
A couple days before Christmas, Mr. Ornery (age 10) decided to check on my resolve, clearly a little worried for his little brother. “Did you really not buy The Little Guy anything for Christmas?” “Oh, I told him. Lying is serious. All he’s getting is a book and empty boxes.”
Christmas morning arrived. The boys entertained themselves (The Little Guy made a ‘vlog’ video of himself brushing his teeth) while I took the dog for her morning walk. They impatiently sat on the top steps as I got the oven on to warm up breakfast. They begrudgingly (and with almost a smile from all of them) participated in the requisite selfies and photos of them in matching pajamas. They sprang to the family room. They jumped upon their stockings and whipped through the smaller gifts while shoveling handfuls of chocolates into their mouths. (Super Tall Guy sorted his stocking stuffers into “worthy of keeping” and “garbage” piles! 😊). I love stockings.
And then it was time to turn to the gifts. After the initial excitement of trying to stockpile some gifts, I glanced over at The Little Guy. He sat with a small pile of wrapped boxes. I handed him some gifts labeled 1, 2 and 3. I explained those were his gifts this year. He warily opened Gift 1. It was a box with three clementine oranges and a piece of paper that read “Don’t Lie.” Box 2 was a box with animal crackers and a paper that read “Don’t Lose….” Box 3 was empty with a sheet of paper that read “….Hope.”
The Little Guy broke into tears.
I said, “Hey, what does ‘hope’ mean?” trying to break through the sobbing. “Little Guy, what does ‘hope’ mean?” He ran from the room as I followed. My arms encircled him as he wept on the stairs. “What does hope mean?” I asked again. “I don’t know,” he cried.
“Buddy, ‘hope’ means ‘waiting for something good.”
“Let’s start over and think about this. Don’t lie. But don’t lose hope.”
I sat him back down in the family room and Mr. Ornery and I carried in a large box brimming with gifts. The smile returned to The Little Guy’s face. Hope returned to the Little Guy’s heart.
And that has become his word of the year. When you make a mistake, don’t lose hope. Things can turn around. When life looks bleak, don’t lose hope. Wait for good to come again.
Days later the boys and I sat in the theater watching the final Star Wars movie, The Rise of Skywalker. The Little Guy caught the word among the dialogue in one scene and turned to me with a smile, “Hope, they just said. I guess that’s my word.”
Harsh? Quite possibly. But then, I don’t think he’ll forget the meaning of Hope for awhile. I also hope that he doesn’t forget the reason we went through this and how important Truth is.
Now if only I could get that lesson to sink into Mr. Ornery…..
….works in progress is what we all are….