I'm learning a lot from attempting to parent 2 boys. Namely, I'm learning how much I don't know, and that more often than not, I am dealing with less than 1/2 of the information when trying to make a decision. My boys are constantly trying to get me to "choose sides" in their little battles, and most of the time, there is no way for me to know the whole truth. Sintayehu can't communicate verbally in English yet, and my Amharic is very limited. Our language barrier destroys his ability to share "his side" of the story, so I have to make out what I can from the volume level of the shrieking and the little that I've been able to glean of his personality thus far: he is the world's bossiest little kid, he thinks that everything that is within a foot of his body belongs to him, and he absolutely DOES NOT like it when he doesn't get his way....(insert screaming temper tantrums here!) Yikealo, on the other hand, is perfectly capable of sharing "his side" of the story, but I also have to take into account what I know about him: he is normally truthful, but does occasionally lie when he's afraid of getting into trouble, he is currently being a bit manipulative in trying to get what he sees as his equal share of my attention, and although he really does love his little brother, he is feeling like his world is still a bit upside-down, and is acting out accordingly.
Then there's the fact that all of us see our circumstances through the lenses of our past experiences and our emotional make-up. Both of my boys have a messy, scary, sad side to their past, and they are dragging that along with them into every single situation. Add that to the fact that sometimes they simply don't hear what is actually being said because of what they are thinking about, or they base their actions not on reality but instead on what they want to see. Take this example from this morning: Yikealo had just finished his breakfast and asked if he could go play. I said, "No. Right now, I want you to go to the basement, get 3 word cards and write out a sentence. When you're done writing, I want you to take a shower and then make your bed." He said, "Okay," and left the kitchen. Moments later, I heard the sound of Legos clicking together from the direction of his bedroom. I went to check up on him, and he was sitting on the floor with his box of Legos between his knees, starting in on his next creation. I stood there slightly dumbfounded.
Me: "Yikealo! What did I just ask you to do?"
Y: "Take a shower."
Me: "No...I asked you to go to the basement, get 3 word cards, write a sentence, THEN take a shower and make your bed! What are you doing!"
Y: (in a bewildered voice) "But you said that I could play for a little bit first!"
HUH?????? Nowhere in that list of commands did I tell him that he could play for a little bit first, but he was completely serious. Now, it is clear to me that what Yikealo WANTED to do was play for a little bit first, and therefore, he was listening to me with only half an ear at best. He was thinking about playing instead of hearing what I said. He heard that he was supposed to shower, but he completely blocked out the task that he hated the most (sentence writing) and just inserted his own wishes instead.
Then there's the whole topic of forgiveness over the many real or imagined slights that occur between the two of them every single day. We had the ugliness of grudge-holding played out for us first hand the other night. The boys had been in the basement playing with the train set for quite some time, when suddenly, we heard Sintay wailing in fear and anger. A quick look into the situation revealed Yikealo standing in front of the basement door, blocking his little brother from getting out. Y was reprimanded and S was rescued. Over the next hour, Yikealo seemed very out of sorts. He was belligerent when we asked him a question at supper, he mouthed off to his Daddy, and he pouted. It all came to a head when we happened to see him (completely out of character, I might add) yank Cleo's tail as she walked by him. He ended up in the corner for a bit, while Sintayehu shouted unintelligible things at him from the booster seat. I took Yikealo into his room for some privacy, sat down with him on my lap, and gently asked what in the world was going on. After stalling for a bit, he broke down and the whole story came pouring out. When they had been in the basement, Sintay had taken one of Yikealo's cars and added it to his own train. It understandably made Y angry, but instead of forgiving his brother and moving on, he decided to hold a grudge, which made him act out in very unusual ways. After we prayed together, asking God for His forgiveness, I asked Y to go give S a hug and tell him that he was forgiven. Sintayehu had absolutely no idea why his big brother was suddenly giving him a hug....he had forgotten all about the train incident....but we immediately saw a change come over Yikealo's countenance. He was back to his normal, happy self, and he told us that he felt much better. David summed it up very well when he told Yikealo that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.
I was thinking about all of this as I showered this morning and realizing how often I do the same things. I base my thoughts and actions on what I WANT to think and do rather than on the truth. I'm not always as quick to forgive as I need to be. My deep thoughts were interrupted by more shrieking from Sintayehu. He sounded mad,..not hurt or sad. Yikealo was doing some sort of repetitive humming.....and that was all the information that I had. I was dripping wet behind a shower curtain, and there was no way that I could see what had transpired before the screaming began. My first thought was a defeated sort of groan in my spirit: "NOW what is going on? Who is in the wrong THIS time," and then I was struck with a thought that I truly believe was from God. "It is not your responsibility to take sides on this. They are both your boys, and they are both wrong at times. It is your job to love them equally, and to teach them how to love each other in spite of their differences." I smiled up at the ceiling and calmly called Yikealo into the bathroom.
Me: "Yikealo, when Sintay starts screaming like that, it is probably time to re-evaluate your actions and see if you are doing something to make him angry. If you are, then it's time to apologize."
He ran happily back out of the bathroom, and giggles were soon pealing from the direction of the living room. Ummmm....yeah....so that one was probably Y's fault, but as usual, there's no way to know for sure.
Here's what I do know though: taking sides usually isolates me from one of my sons for awhile, so if there is a way to avoid that, I'll take it. I want them both to know that they are valued and wonderful in my eyes. I want them to be corrected rather than simply punished when they are in the wrong. More than anything, I want them to understand how special they are to God and how much He loves them. I want them to realize that even when I can't see the whole picture, God can. When one of them is twisting the truth into his own "side of the story"or when one of them is screaming because he hasn't gotten his way, God knows exactly what has taken place, and He can see perfectly through their motives and into their hearts. He will ALWAYS guide them to make the right decision if they stop for a bit and simply ask Him for direction. When one of them chooses to forgive his brother who has wronged him, his relationship with God will be strengthened, as will the bond between the brothers.
Once again, God is teaching me so much more in these moments than I could ever teach my children....and I cannot begin to say how thankful I am for His patience with me as I learn!