He runs through the kitchen with a flurry of “bangs,” “pows,” and “zings,” brightly coloured plastic toys flapping around his waist. How many daggers, lasers, and water pistols can one Mennonite kid fit under the belt of his bathrobe?
Quite a few, apparently.
If they had lived to see this day, my proper, peace-loving grandparents would be horrified; although the news that I study modern dance and sip champagne at weddings may be sufficiently disturbing to temporarily distract them from my warlike offspring.
In my defence, my son’s love for battle springs in part from his exposure to the Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis’ classic allegories of the Christian life, in which young kings and queens fight evil within and without. But how do I make sure he knows not to transfer the battle against the forces of evil in the heavenly realm to a battle with flesh and blood? Besides not leaving Canadian Forces brochures on the table, what does it mean to teach my children to be people of peace?
My MB congregation’s website states, “We are an historic peace church desiring to bring reconciliation, peace, and wholeness to all the relationships of life.” “All relationships” doesn’t leave much wiggle room, does it? It’s one thing to pray for peace for guerrillas in a faraway jungle, but what about the guy down the street who hurts your child?
Like the day my son came home from a friend’s house in tears. I could hear him wailing from two blocks away. Ten-year-old boys don’t cry in public unless it’s serious, or dessert is at stake. Between his sobs I made out: “He said I was the most annoying kid he’d ever met!”
“No, his dad. He yelled at me to ‘just get out and never come back!’”
My inner momma bear raised her grizzly head and growled. How dare he speak to my cub that way?
Resisting the urge to climb a tree or rip bacon with my teeth, I took a moment to write down some sane words and then picked up the phone.
“Play date not go well?” I asked, trying to sound nonchalant. “What happened?”
The dad explained. Instead of turning off the video game as soon as he was told, my son asked, “Why?” We don’t have video games, so playing them at a friend’s house is a huge treat. We have a policy of giving a five-minute warning before we ask our kids to turn off the TV, and we count to five calmly after making the request before jumping in with consequences. I made a mental note to debrief with my son about the way rules differ at other people’s homes.
The father said, “I didn’t want his inability to obey to be a bad example for my kids, so I told him it was time to go.” I think giving the kid another chance to succeed would make for a better learning experience for everyone, but it’s his home. Fair enough.
“I see. But he’s welcome to come back another day, right?”
“Of course,” he replied coolly. When I confronted him with the words that wounded my son, he denied saying them. I tensed; the image of a bear claw slashed through my mind. I ripped the corner off my notepad.
He went on, “Your son doesn’t know how to listen because he obviously never gets told ‘no’ at home.” My face scrunched at the sourness of his words. I bit my tongue. He continued in a condescending tone, “I know what he needs; I have years of professional experience with difficult children.”
I said a quiet goodbye, and went to hold my son – something I have 10 years of experience with myself.
“Honey, I believe everything you said, but he’s changed his mind – you’re welcome back another day. And next time I asked him to call me and I’ll come pick you up, so you don’t need to walk home all alone.” He rested his head on my shoulder and we sat a while, breathing out the resentment and unfairness. Words would return to hurt us again, but we’d seen a path through them.
Global peace is a God-sized problem too big for my mind to fathom, but seeking wholeness in relationship is something God calls all of us to. The hardest place to do that is at home. It requires calmness, creativity, and commitment.
When strangers disrespect, spouses disagree, and children defy, calmness comes through telling ourselves the truth. Reminding myself that I am an authoritative parent, despite the other dad’s impression, helped me remain calm through his accusations.
When my daughter ate a tube of lipstick at the age of two, thinking “she’s trying to drive me crazy!” only made me angry. But, “she needs more supervision, I get to pick out a new lip colour, and don’t we both look fabulous covered in ‘mauve shimmer’!” helped me see the Kodak moment (the kind you capture and set aside for the wedding day slideshow). Now seven, she struggles with anxiety and perfectionism, so (in addition to the non-nutritional value of lipstick) I’ve taught her to calm herself by saying, “It’s not the end of the world.” Sometimes it sounds like a prayer.
Responding in anger is the easy way; choosing peace requires us to think creatively and to teach our children to do the same. My creative solution was asking the friend’s dad, at future play dates, to phone me rather than sending my son home. When there was a conflict among his four (now grown) children, says my pastor, Marvin Dyck, he would “ask each participant what he or she could have done to avoid this conflict. I was sometimes impressed by the ability to be self-critical even at a young age.”
My own daughter is great at coming up with positive alternatives: “Instead of locking the babysitter out of the house, next time I’m upset I could play with pretty jewellery till I’ve calmed down.” (I can see our babysitter as she’s reading this adding “plastic necklaces” to her budget!)
Because they are watching us, from before our morning coffee until long after they should be asleep, our children force us to be intentional about living our values. With so many violent examples in the media and the community, it takes commitment as parents to choose peaceful forms of entertainment, disagreement, and discipline. Every family lives their values differently, so our commitment to speak words of peace must include those parents who choose movies or video games (or punishments for not turning them off) that we wouldn’t dream of for our own kids. And when acting out the Chronicles of Narnia involves wielding a sword against a talking wolf, we need to be talking parents too. We need to discuss what it means to be courageous, what is worth fighting for, and who the real enemy is.
Peace is created in the little, everyday choices. It’s in the choice to laugh: like my great-aunts decades ago who, when the Russian soldier stole their butter and put it in his back pocket, giggled quietly from their hiding place as the melting grease ran down his hindquarters. It’s in the commitment to speak the hard questions in a calm, firm voice. It’s choosing to tame the inner grizzly bear, and find a Narnian queen there instead.
And right now, peace is choosing to get my own water gun and help my son spray the neighbours. They look hot.