Last Wednesday I got the call. Again.
My kindergartener was in the office. Again.
This time he had pulled down his pants, shouted, “Feast your eyes!” (a lovely expression he picked up from the Disney movie Brave) and exposed himself to the entire class.
We have been here before. In preschool it was for smearing feces on the reading rug. In Sunday school it was for refusing to sit in a timeout chair and instead stripping off his clothes and rolling around under the tables.
In the office he looks so small as he sits and hangs his tiny head.
“Mommy, I did something bad again.”
His voice is barely a whisper and there are tears in his eyes.
We go to speak to an administrator and she explains what happened. I purse my lips and concentrate on making my facial expression match what I think she wants to see from me.
I am asked what the consequences will be at home.
We take away all media and his favorite train, the one Santa brought, for the remainder of the week. He also makes a card for his teacher and writes “I’m sorry” in large, scratchy letters over a smiley face. He gets no dessert and he understands the consequences are because of his actions.
Later he cries so hard that his whole body shakes.
“Do you still love me?”
He asks me this every time.
My answer is always the same.
“I will always love you. I didn’t like your behavior today.”
“Because I was bad?”
“What you did was bad.”
But son, you are not bad.
You are broken.
I will never stop trying, but I am learning that I cannot fix it.
However, understanding the behavior does not excuse it. That is what my mother says. So we offer structure and consequences. And forgiveness and grace.
We have been to fourteen specialists trying to find the answer, but they do not have it. They have words like “Reactive Attachment Disorder,” labels to put on top of other labels, and assurances that these behaviors are typical in children who had a difficult start in life. There is no one with a more difficult start than you. My dear child, born to a homeless mother who could not provide, fed things your body could not process, and a ward of the state for your first year.
We had family sessions recorded so that videos of our parent/child interactions can be analyzed by teams of experts and they said we are doing this right.
We sent you to therapy and you graduated because your progress had been amazing.
Yet you continue to relapse and break my heart.
And so we take you back.
You do things you know are against the rules and you cannot stop yourself, even though you know they are wrong.
Although I hate this, it is the most beautiful quality about you because in your vulnerability and repeated sins I see God.
I know that, while I must punish your behavior, I can never fault you for it.
It is the same nature that we all have.
And when my job as your mother is so hard that it brings me to me knees to ask God what more I can possibly do, I feel a gentle nudge and a knowing smile that asks me, “Is this not what your Father does for you?”
So I will continue to set the rules and expect you to follow them, knowing that you won’t. I will consequence and forgive and allow you to come to me telling me things I would truly rather not hear.
I am not a perfect parent, but I have one, and so do you, and He told me we are going to be okay.