Despite our best efforts, things still make it into our home that we are less than thrilled about. Our children brought home a fist-full of dollar store goodies from a birthday party the other night. One such gift was a 3-D dinosaur puzzle. Punch the pieces out of the wood. Put them together. Bam! There’s your dino, resurrected from millions of years ago.
With toys like this, that seem to be a great idea until you actually get one into a kid’s hands, mom and dad need to stay integrally involved. First, there’s the ceremonial removal of the shrink-wrap. Then the virtually impossible punching out of the pieces without breaking them in the process. Then figuring out how the thing actually fits together, as there were no instructions. Ages 4+. Way to make me feel stupid.
Once Rachel figured it out (she has more patience than I with stuff like this), each child asked us to take it apart for them. Take it apart?! What do you mean? I just put it together! No! But they wouldn’t have it. They wanted it un-done, so they could do it themselves.
By the third re-assembly, the manufactured pressed wood was already stripping apart, and the sticker picture of the dino was peeling back. This was a one shot deal. Sorry, kiddos. But of course, they insisted on forcing it together, no matter how difficult it got. I admire their persistence.
The next morning, Emeth was up first. “Where’s my dinosaur?” he wanted to know. Rache and I agreed to not throw them out just yet, and to let them suck a few days of enjoyment out of them before they fell to shreds.
“Daddy, can you help me put my dinosaur together?” He then proceeded to have me assemble the dinosaur several different ways, while I attempted to cook breakfast. Rachel and I looked at one another. My eyes said, “I can’t do this anymore! I hate cheap toys! Who’s twisted and sadistic idea was this to create emotional torture toys for parents!”
* * *
In the evening, while preparing dinner, Emeth and Caela were playing upstairs. Emeth began to laugh and cry simultaneously. He shouted my name in a desperate, more urgent tone than usual. I knew something must be up, so I darted upstairs, three at a time. “I peed my pants!” he cried. The evidence was clear.
“Go downstairs right now,” I said with a shaking, slightly raised voice. He left, and I picked Annie’s blanket up and threw it as hard as I could against the wall. Something silent, that wouldn’t make much noise. “That was dumb, but peeing on the floor was dumber,” I thought. “He knows better than this!”
It was already 6:30 pm, and I had barely started meal prep. (Rachel was busy with Talia.) I was angry that my plans continued to get waylaid. Dinner would be late. Bedtime later. Daddy more tired and more irritable.
I got some clothes for Emeth and went downstairs. “You need to take a bath,” I told him. He hates baths, so maybe I was trying to punish him for something that was just childish. But this time he happily complied. Insult to injury. Coals on my head. He was happy as a bee in pollen. “No harm done, dad. It’s just pee.”
* * *
While getting the kids ready for bed, Rachel went downstairs to get the laundry. When she came back, she said, “Jos, can you come here, please?” Her voice was tense and shaking. I followed her to the kitchen, not knowing whether I was in trouble, or whether someone had died.
“Everything in the laundry is completely red!” The way she said it, I imagined that some small, suicidal creature had crawled into the dryer just before she closed it, and shed its battered blood on everything, in one last ditch effort to leave its mark on the world. “One of them must have had a red dinosaur crayon in their pocket!” She articulately emphasized every word.
“Let me see,” I said. Sure enough, splotches of crayon on everything. Even on the two new (thrift store) dresses she picked up the day before. Even my undies.
* * *
When I saw Emeth and Rache struggling with dinosaurs and ruined clothing, I responded with frustration in the former, and attempted words of comfort in the latter. Sometimes things happen that seem like a big deal in the moment. Like the pee. It was extremely frustrating to me. But it seemed like no big deal to Emeth, and he was over it in minutes. (The red clothing took longer.)
When I saw Emeth struggling with his dino assembly, I thought, “Is this what I’m like at times? That I can’t see past my immediate circumstances? Complaining about inconsequential things? What does God think of me in such moments? Does he have compassion, saying, ‘My dear child, I have so much more for you. Let it go and rest in my arms.'”
With the clothing, Rache wondered if God was punishing her for loving her new dresses too much. I understand why she was feeling this way. We had just taken a whole van load to the thrift store, and she’s always struggled to find comfortable clothing. It was like a double blow, getting rid of mistaken purchases, then having your good purchases taken away from you.
What does God think of our raw responses in each of these moments? Is he a God who delights to punish us, and teach us a lesson? Or is he gently reminding us, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Mark 10:15) What did the child among us do? He peed on the floor, made his daddy clean it up, then rested in the love of his father. He knew I would not banish him from the house, or withhold his supper. He knew I still loved him. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11)
Yes, I’d like to be more like that. A father who delights to give good gifts to my children. A child who delights to receive good gifts from my Father.