Why does it seem to come as a complete surprise to my kids that they have to clean their room every night? You would think that after doing this EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. For the past, few years? That they would have gotten the hang of it by now, or at least learned to expect it. But no, it comes as a complete shock, even a betrayal - that I, their mother of all people! Someone who is supposed to love them! Would DARE to demand that they put away the messes they have so dutifully created.
It really doesn't take long. Put the toys in the toy-box, the clothes in the basket - put the papers in the trash and the books on the shelf and make sure your beds have all the necessary bedtime companions in their proper places. It truly is a 5-10 minute job at the very most. And yet, the perceived agony that comes with the instruction "make sure your room is clean." Astounds me.
As it was last night - I was tired. The girls were not. They had slept that afternoon after being up late for fireworks. I had not. Dad was working for the evening so, after a day alone with kids, I was facing an evening alone with kids - and then dishes and laundry. So perhaps the combination was bad in the first place.
I informed the girls of two things. 1. If they didn't get the room clean by 8:00 there would be no bedtime story. 2. I needed to vacuum in there, (because Ayla had recently deemed it necessary to crush some discovered Styrofoam- so there were small white particles littering the floor - not to mention somehow the fish food has been spilled, though no one seemed to know how or when.) Therefore, once they deemed it "clean enough for the vacuum." I would then come in with a fine toothed comb and clean off of the ground, all that could hurt my vacuum (rocks, bobby pins, crayons, bug collections, etc) and it would all go promptly into the trash.
I was in no mood to be patient. I will admit, there was a part of me that HOPED I would find something on the ground. I needed, after all, to teach my children the value of doing a good job! No half-assed work around here. "You don't make it sparkling, you lose your treasures!" My mind muttered in maternal glee. This is a good time to teach those scallywags a lesson or two on doing your best work!
Well, my need to bring the fear of the mother onto my children was satisfied that night. Not only were there still broken crayons, forgotten artwork and polly pocket shoes. There was a scattered collection of sea shells just under the bed. Certainly not something the vacuum can handle.
Proudly I declared the devastation of my combing. "I told you guys, that if I found anything left on the ground that would hurt my vacuum, it would go into the trash." I said to the waiting troops. "I found these shells, someone chose not to put them where they belonged. And the consequences is that they are going to be thrown away."
Now, I expected tears. After all, I would have gotten tears if my presentation had contained a torn bit of ribbon someone had carelessly tossed aside. The content is not usually important, my children are typically not very connected to specific items - they just don't like something being throw away. And usually this demonstration is enough to produce more careful combing on their part in the future.
But this time? My 6 year old immediately exploded. "THOSE ARE MY SHELLS FROM KINDERGARTEN BEACH DAY!!!!" You would think the world had ended. (And the amount of snot and saliva that immediately started flowing could have given a flood a good chance at that.)
"You knew" I calmly stated. "You were given the chance to put them where they belonged. You chose not to. I said if anything was left on the ground it would go into the trash." I plopped them into my trash-bag, feeling justified in my lesson. Sure, it is hard to see my baby cry. But these are the hard lessons we have to teach as parents right? Standing our ground. Following through. And I am GOOD at following through. What I say is law in this house, 100%.
But all of a sudden I felt an odd tugging. As I went into the kitchen to dispose of the shells forever, I stood at the trashcan for a moment. Then I snagged the bag with the shells in it out of the larger trash bag. Not sure why, but feeling I needed too.
We combed hair, we brushed teeth. We got into pajamas. Taylor was hiccuping her sorrow. Telling me how there was no beach day in first grade. Ayla tried to make her sister feel better, she told her that "When she was in KG she would give Taylor the shells she got from her beach day." (Which was very kind of her!) But nothing would calm the torrent of tears. I flatly stated that the girls should go get into bed and I would be in there to sing their nighttime songs soon.
As they got into bed, I found myself again in the kitchen staring at the trash-bag. This was very unusual for me! To doubt a decree? Was I going soft? My children were doomed!
And then it clicked in my head. I fished out the shells, put them into two bags. I stuffed them into my pockets and went to sing to my babies.
Taylor was still sobbing. Snot and tears in her hair, wiped away by her soggy quilt.
"Do you know what Grace is Taylor?" I ask?
"No." She answers.
"What does the Bible call it when we choose to do a bad thing?" I ask.
"Sin." she says.
"That's right." The Bible says that everyone sins sometimes. It also says that when we choose to sin - like lying, or being un-kind or not obeying our parents. That we have to die."
***Flood of tears erupts!***
"But listen Taylor, God said 'I don't want my babies to die. I love them too much.' And that is why Jesus came. He died for us, for all of the bad things we have done, and everything we will do. God showed us Grace. When we have done something bad, and we deserve a BIG consequence, Grace is when that consequence is taken away. Sometimes, even though we deserve it, God shows us Grace and takes away the consequence. We don't have to die for our sins, because God showed us Grace instead. We can learn lessons like this from God. And sometimes Taylor - Moms can show grace too."
I handed her the bag of shells.
I was not prepared for the flood of emotions that followed. She started laughing and crying all at the same time. She hugged me and held on super tight. "Thank You, Thank You, Thank You Mama!" She said between the tears. I just hugged her back and fought the tears myself as I pictured my own pride of being a "consistent, strict, mother" crashing and breaking as God held me, and offered me grace for my own sins.
Taylor slept all night with those shells clutched tightly in her hands. She informed me before she went to sleep that she "wanted to have a party to celebrate Grace" and it wasn't until I told the story to my husband and he said, "We do, every year - it is called Christmas" that it really sunk in.
Thank You God - for the opportunity to be a part of teaching my kids the big lessons. I know that this is a lesson she will get to learn over and over. I re-learned it myself last night. But how amazing that I got to be a part of the teaching! God trusted me, small little me, enough to help teach one of his Babies the story of His Amazing Grace. Let me always be open to helping to teach. Help my pride to never be a stumbling block -in the way of what You want to do for Your babies- let me be a tool, honed to perfection and ready at all opportunities.