Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Grace and the brown marker

I have been lucky so far in my parenting, at least when it comes to one major area. In nearly six years of parenting, my children have never ruined any object that we own (at least nothing significant). I'm not even that fanatical about keeping food and markers away from all forbidden surfaces; I have friends who would probably cringe at how relaxed I am about what goes on in my house. No sticky food outside of the kitchen, wipe hands and face when leaving the table, that's about as stringent as my rules get. And after several years of monitoring marker and crayon use I now just dump them all out on the table along with coloring books and scrap paper because it gives me a blissful hour or so of working in my home office.

Somehow I thought that reaching the ages of three and almost-six without them ever desiring to color on anything other than paper meant that we were home free. And so yesterday I set K up at the table with his markers, some coloring books and some scrap paper and went into the other room to fold laundry. I was nearly done, all the socks matched, all the shirts folded, everything in its place when he wandered into the room with his head held low, peeking up at me through those impossibly long, dark eyelashes.

"I color on the table," he announced.

"Oh, that's ok sweetie, we'll clean it up!" I said, certain that he had probably just drawn a line slightly astray from one of his coloring books.

The good news? Our table isn't anything special. It isn't a family heirloom, it isn't fancy, it is just your standard, light wood table. Emphasis on light.

The bad news? Brown marker shows up really, really well on light wood. And K had taken half the table to draw what appeared to be some kind of road map, complete with blotches that probably represented route marker signs on the way to who knows where. The worse news? After washing the brown off, there was still a pronounced orange road map stain on the table. For a moment I considered refinishing the table in a Route 66 theme.

The good news? Clorox Bleach pens are miracles in a tube. No more stain.

The best news? Through it all, I kept my cool. This is huge for me. I'm still new to being a stay at home parent, and I struggle with the daily frustrations of parenting, the noise, the whining, the constant expectations that I will meet their every need and whim. I yell far more than I'd like to, and then wallow in guilt for the rest of the day. But I didn't yell today. I already knew he knew he'd done wrong. Yes, there were consequences; the markers got put away and he had to help me wash the initial brown marks off the table. But I think I succeeded in giving him grace.

I wish sometimes that I were that able to give myself grace. How many times do I make a mistake, intentionally or not and then spend the next several hours (or days, or years) mentally yelling at myself for doing it? Sometimes the mistakes are innocent; lack of knowledge, caught unaware, just ordinary life blunders. Sometimes I look around to see if anyone is watching and then gleefully color all over the forbidden surface just because it's there and just because I want to. And the stains stay, reminding me of mistakes made. I've been given grace by others; by God, by my husband, by my children. Why is it so hard, then, to give grace to myself?

Something to practice, I guess, as grace starts to flow in my life. Not only to extend grace to others, but to also extend it to myself.

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