Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Looking within…

Several weeks back, our foster son met several older boys. He just graduated from Kindergarten; these kids were in second, fifth and seventh grades. Our little guy looked like, “Whoa! They’re bigger kids. And they’re cool. I need to impress them!” I remember such thinking as a boy. Thus, it came as no surprise that, when they asked him to share the toys he was playing with, he quickly agreed, even going to find more of his precious toy cars for all the play with. It was his chance to prove himself to the bigger kids (and me). “See what cool toys I have (and how I’m learning to share!)!”

But what followed felt almost surreal. Together, they zoomed the toys around, making up voices and stories, especially for the Disney Cars (a popular cartoon movie) cars, which everyone knew the names for. I see our foster son do this several times daily. Playing cars is his favorite. And you know that feeling when someone you’ve just met reveals they like what you like? How hope bubbles up that you’ll connect with someone new at a deeper level, or at least, you’re affirmed in that special thing that brings you joy? Something like that occurred. It was lovely.

It was also odd, uncomfortable. Because our foster child is six, not graduating into middle school. This car toy game seemed, frankly, too young for these other boys. Granted, I lack experience parenting middle schoolers. But I was once an adept youth minister. So I think it’s fair to wonder why these youth were connecting with our guy on an emotional level seemingly inappropriate to their age. Is it typical for a middle schooler to crawl on his knees, playing Cars? And not in the way I do as an older person joining the younger kid’s game. Rather, they all seemed on the same level, experiencing similar emotions, from these shared activities and toys, as if they were all in Kindergarten.

I should add that I’ve got good reason to believe these boys came from rough backgrounds. They’ve been exposed to things such young men shouldn’t encounter, in my opinion; or, at least, have little-to-no emotional tools for responding to healthfully. The seventh grade boy just looked- for lack of a better word- hard, in the manner you see from survivors. I celebrate his resiliency, and hurt for his need of it, and was mostly glad he wanted to play with, rather than intimidate, our boy. 

Yet to witness that near-adolescent act like a six year-old, overjoyed at putting words into toy cars’ mouths with a voice already deepening, it struck a nerve I didn’t like feeling. I wondered if I was seeing an innocence exposed that should’ve developed into more sophisticated play years before, but has been locked inside. Or maybe it was just the joy of a poor kid getting to use toys he’d long wanted to. I’m sure that was part of the story. I’m also convinced there was much more.

Perhaps the child development gurus among you have better wisdom than I for interpreting that vignette. I’ve spent the past weeks simply confused. Besides, it didn’t go on long. Within fifteen minutes, parent-types appeared and the boys’ seeming innocence hid again. They jumped up, left with determined looks and a wave that was maybe thankful, but I couldn’t tell. It felt more like they were shutting the door on that experience and marching onto the next.

The fifth commandment is “Children, honor your parents.” The converse must be included too- “Parents, honor your children.” Especially their innocence, the joy within that needs chances for healthy expression, lest it fester or snuff out too soon. None of us, of course, should force our own values on an unknown family as to what counts as damaging innocence. But aren’t there lines that, if crossed, ought bother both parents and community members alike? Probably. What are they? That’s an evolving question. In any case, thank God that goodness, innocence is resilient enough to endure within these boys. May God guide them- and us- to better places, where everyone can smile and play in peace.

Grace and Peace,

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