By Janet Villa
“Tell me the story of the snake,” you’d say. You say that right after you shout, “Bible time!” Bible reading, which comes after Word World on TV, is one of your favorite times of the day.
That “snake” is the one in the story of creation. When we’d start with, “In the beginning, there was nothing and there was nobody,” you’d close your eyes and say, “No nothing, no nobody. No Mommy, no Daddy, no Anna, no Ate Mae.” You go ahead of us, complete our sentences, and eventually take over the telling. And when you’d lose steam, you’d sigh as if from the weight of your words, “Mommy/Daddy, you say it.”
Sometimes we’d tell you the story by asking questions. When you’ve had enough of our questions, you’d pinch our cheeks and say into our eyes, “No, tell me. Tell me.”
Then we’d get to the snake, the one you proclaim to be bad, even as we tell you that there are good snakes and there are bad snakes (just as there are good sharks and bad sharks, but you disagree, your imagination working overtime, which is why you love the beach but not the sea).
Tonight you got upset at the snake that had kept tempting Eve, so you told us, “I will palo the snake.” You said this in a voice full of gravitas. I told you, “No, let God be the one to take care of the snake.” You nodded, “Yes, I’ll tell God to palo the snake. He can use his slipper.”
I wonder where you get these ideas of palo.
We hardly spank you. In the few times we had to, it was to rap your hand with a ruler when you wouldn’t accept logic. You listen to reason most of the time and respond positively to a kick-kiss discipline (which is to tell you what you did wrong, why it is wrong, what its consequences are, ask you to repeat what we said, then affirm our love for you), so spanking was hardly needed. But when you saw a scary, luminous mask at the Halloween Trick or Treat, you cried and screamed for your father to pick up a hammer and palo the mask. A hammer! Your dad smiled, but I was unnerved by the violence.
I guess yours is the age when we can’t entirely shield you from what the world feeds you. Our accountability to you has leveled up: we now need to help you process, filter and decompress from all the information you receive beyond the cordon sanitaire of Disney Junior.
One day, perhaps when you chance upon the news and the violence it often brings, you might ask us, “Why did that man do that?” or the trickier “What makes a person bad?”
How does a parent discuss evil with a three-year-old? Perhaps I can tell you, in a language adjusted to your age, “A person becomes bad when he or she knowingly makes a decision that hurts somebody in some way. That somebody can be anybody; that somebody can be you.”
I find myself relearning, yet again, from anticipating your questions. Each day, each moment, we are faced with decisions: to study or not, to cheat or not, to eat or not—each decision either benefiting or harming us or another. Our life, our choice. In many of those choices, we would be tempted to make the wrong one. Our job is to say no, whenever a no is needed to uphold good or avoid harm.
Dearest daughter, it’s much tougher than it sounds. It is why Eve gave in to the snake’s persistence or why we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” Perhaps it might help you—help us—to remember that life is a moment-by-moment decision. All we have to work out is today. The past has gone, and tomorrow is yet to come. Today is all we need to do.
God’s slipper is more benevolent than any parent’s.
Because He is wise, He allows you to fail if you choose to do wrong. He lets you go through the consequences of a wrong choice. You might have to leave Eden. To do otherwise is to tolerate a mistake that could fester into misconduct. Sometimes, an injury that happens to you is the consequence of somebody else’s decision. That doesn’t sound fair, but it is logical: our world is a cauldron of free will and consequences.
Because He is merciful, He steps in when you ask Him, in a way that does not detract from the life lesson meant for you.
Because He is forgiving, He asks you to also forgive yourself. Forgiveness is vintage God, why He made coats of skins to clothe Adam and Eve after the Fall.
Because He is gracious, He redeems you from your mistakes. Our God is a God of second, third, fourth, and hundredth chances.
Because He is loving, He offers to carry your load. His Son, after all, had already carried you through Calvary. Through death and beyond.
With God, and mostly with us parents, the bottom line is love. In the choices that you have to make, let love be the distinctive.