I got the call as I was walking into the karate dojo for an early afternoon lesson with our youngest son. It was my middle son’s first grade school teacher. She wasn’t happy. I could hear the frustration in her tone and she made no attempt to hide it. It must be bad. She is the most patient and fun loving teacher, and she adores my son, for him to make her call me during the school day was a big deal.
“I’m about to pull my hair out,” she said. “I have tried everything, and I can’t get him to cooperate. I thought maybe if I called you, and you talked to him on the phone, maybe it would help.”
I still get emotional remembering how I felt hearing those words. No one wants to hear that their child isn’t behaving. I know I’m not the first mom to get a call like that, but it was my first call like that and I was terrified.
“I’ll tell you what,” I countered, “I’m literally five minutes from the school, I can leave Aron here for his lesson and I’ll come down there and talk to Ivan in person.”
I knew my presence would be more impactful, but I also needed to see his face. It’s difficult to read a child’s melancholy over the phone and knew I would need to find the root of it.
I used my short trip to the school, just two blocks up the road, to pray. “Holy Spirit I need you. I need to help Ivan and I don’t know what you know. I need your help.”
He was already in the principal’s office when she had called and he was waiting for me there. She explained that he wouldn’t speak. He wouldn’t tell her what was wrong or why he was acting sullen. He had broken a couple of pencils in frustration, not in a loud violent manner, but in a resignation to some inability, he had snapped them in two and let them drop to the floor.
I looked at him and spoke. I asked him to respond and he was no more cooperative with me than he had been with her.
I sat there with him, silent for a few moments, still praying for wisdom, guidance, and words that wouldn’t fall to the ground.
He was obviously frustrated. His eyes looking down at his limp arms, curled up legs in a seat that was too large for a little boy. It was all too large. This ordered life we hand to creative kids is impossible. I had known that for a long time. I remember my own inability to follow the entire sentence when my teacher was instructing me. My own reluctance to cooperate when I knew the only outcome was failure. The weight I felt when they wanted me to draw squares and my pencil only knew daisies, and faces, and seashells. I typically fell in line as long as I could, and I impressed them with my ability to march to the drum everyone else marched to, but as soon as the drums were silent I found my own rhythm and I left marching for stillness almost every time. Stillness or sprinting, the in between was far too hard to maintain.
And so I found Ivan, the march had proven him out of step and I knew it. I knew the weight of failure was on him and I realized, as if my own heart were on that chair in front of me, that I couldn’t lift it for him either. The knowledge I had prayed for came over me like a flood. I knew exactly what to do.
He needed the gospel.
This was my mandate in mothering, to never simply recover the lost heart, but to pour life into it. I am to breath, and perform, and preach the gospel to every condition of their souls, until they knew their own safety without me. I let the truth come into me and out of me simultaneously.
“Ivan,” I said. “Did something happen today that made you feel that you had failed?”
He nodded ever so slightly.
“Did you mess up, or make a mistake?”
Again, he nodded.
“That’s more than I’ve gotten out of him all day,” his teacher shook her head and let her shoulders relax as she said it.
With tears in my eyes, I lifted his chin and I said, “Did you know you can start over?”
I saw a change in his eyes. He was still clenched up and defensive, but I saw light flicker in him.
“You don’t have to wait until tomorrow to have a better day, you can start over right now. We can pray about whatever it is, and Jesus can just wipe it away like dust from the chalkboard. Jesus died for moments like this. The Bible says, that we WERE crucified with Christ. That means whatever happened this morning, has already been paid for. You don’t have to continue punishing yourself for it. You need to admit you were wrong, and let Jesus know you are sorry, but then you don’t live in it anymore. You can start over now.”
He still didn’t say much, but he straightened his little back up and started looking for his pencil. He took his stack of unfinished papers and found a place to work. I had to get back to Aron so I didn’t stay long with him, but I patted his head and kissed his cheek and told him I loved him before getting back in the car.
I could see the relief on his teacher’s face when I left, and later she told me that he had worked unusually hard at catching up on his work.
I cried once I was in the car, so thankful for the precious presence of Christ.
We really didn’t talk about it much later, I just assured him that I will always try to understand, but that it was really the Holy Spirit who knew him so well.
This task of raising boys, especially the tender heart in the middle, is never predictable, it’s sweet though. It’s ever so sweet, and it teaches me daily, the importance of knowing my Savior. Who would I be without Him, but a melancholy child curled up in a world too big, wishing I knew how to please people. He changed it all, and bids me at any given moment, to start all over again.