I had a bishop once who taught me many colorful and descriptive phrases that I have found frequent occasion to use throughout my life. For instance, when something is really hard, it's "like peeing up a rope." Or when you are making a situation more complicated than it really should be, you're "going around your elbow to get to your butt."
He's also the one that used to say that some people can look at a pile of poop and say, "That's poop, and I don't want to get any on me. I'd better leave it alone." And some people look at it, smell it, inspect it carefully, and then say, "I wonder what that is? I'd better jump right in and see what it's all about!" It's still poop, and it still stinks, but it takes those people a little longer to figure it out -- they don't recognize it on sight like others do. They can still wash it off, but it takes a little more effort.
I think I have a kid like this. Let me explain. My G-Dog is a really good kid. But he has some personality traits that make him a little more challenging than the average 4-year-old. He is very emotionally intuitive -- he can discern someone's feelings about him better than some full-grown adults I know who make claims of emotional awareness. If he even thinks a little that you're upset with him, or frustrated, or don't like him in the least, or even that you don't "get" him, his behavior changes immediately and accordingly.
Although he and ConMan are twins, it has been clear from the very beginning that he is really the oldest. MommyJ says her twins came together because they needed each other. I think mine came together because, due to infertility issues, my chances of getting all of my kids here in singleton pregnancies were admittedly low -- they came together because I needed them to. But had they been singletons, G-Dog would have been first. He has that oldest kid assertiveness and innate authority that I know well, being an oldest child myself.
He hates to be wrong (again, just like me) and he does not like to have his experiences inhibited at all -- even if it's clear that I'm just trying to save him or his brothers from mortal injury/harm/loss of limb or privilege. He doesn't like to apologize -- instead of actually saying the words, he'll say, "Mommy, when I make this noise, it means I'm apologizing." And then he'll make the noise and think he's done. (He's not.)
He is stubborn, and thoughtful, and scarily smart in the connections he makes between events and subjects that seem disparate, even to me, but upon further examination, are absolutely related. He is willful and defiant and tries hard to negotiate in his and his brothers' favor, but if I can give him a logical explanation for what I have asked of him, he complies willingly. He is tender and sensitive to the needs of others, even while forcefully exerting his dominance over his siblings. He is idealistic in his expectations of others' behavior, and holds me strictly to a consistent application of all the house rules. He has many characteristics that I hope he still has when he's a teenager, but sure make for some difficult days at our house now.
Lately, we have had some experiences that have, for G-Dog, given him the first-hand knowledge he seeks, but have also provided me with the opportunity for significant teaching moments that, I hope, will stick. The first happened several weeks ago.
I picked the boys up from preschool one Thursday. At home, they played together as I made lunch. They popped in and out of the kitchen to monitor my progress, and I noticed them playing with a few toys I had never seen before: two painted sets of bolted tongue depressors, each stick labeled with a different number, 1-10, and a corresponding amount of dots. They were clearly handmade, and it was obvious they had brought them home from school. I'm not one to accuse my kids of anything before I have gathered as much information as possible, and this one made me a little curious, so I asked G-Dog where the counting sticks came from. "They just appeared in my backpack, Mommy! It's magic!" He glanced furtively at ConMan to make sure he would cover him . . . which he did, at first, but eventually, after I called the preschool and interrogated further, I got the whole story: the counting sticks came from school and belonged back at school, and G-Dog was the sole perpetrator of larceny, although ConMan became an accessory after the fact.
We piled in the car and drove back to their school, which is affiliated with a local Lutheran church. G-Dog protested the whole time, even though he had verbalized to me that he knew he needed to take them back, but it would be hard. When he's in that frame of mind, I just let him rant. We all need to do that sometimes, and I figured the time for a lesson would come later when introspection finally arrived in the company of calm. By the time we got to the school, he was significantly more subdued. We walked in with the toys, and had a wonderful experience with the preschool administrator who took the opportunity to talk to G-Dog about how proud she was that he had decided to do the right thing. She taught him a great lesson about being obedient to God's commandments and following Jesus' example and showing love for them by choosing the right. He was so receptive. I was amazed.
The next week, I left the boys playing in the living room and watching a show so I could go take a shower. G-Dog has been known to use these unsupervised opportunities to get out food they shouldn't be eating. He has a knack for finding things I have hidden, and opening packages that should be impossible.
(When he was younger, he got the baking chocolate out of the cabinet and by the time I found him, he and ConMan had eaten 4 squares. No nap that day -- instead, they sailed around the room in a caffeine and sugar induced frenzy. The next time, he smuggled out a box of unsweetened baking chocolate while I was putting away groceries. I noticed the absence of said chocolate and found him in the living room, box open, squares lined up neatly on the hearth, a small pile of white wrappers on the floor in front of him.
"Look, Mommy. It's chocolate!"
I asked him, "Are you going to eat all that?"
He smiled, and said, "Yep!" I didn't stop him. And all it took was one bite of bitter, unsweetened chocolate for him to become eternally leery of chocolate that isn't in candy bar or chip form.)
Back to the story. I finished my shower, and turned off the water. Immediately, I heard a blood-curdling scream. This is not unusual in my house, and 99% of the time, no bodily injury is involved, so I continued drying off and figured someone would let me know if it was serious. But the crying didn't stop, and I soon heard the pitter-patter of ConMan's little feet coming down the hallway and into my bathroom.
"Mommy, G-Dog has bleed."
I wrapped my hair in a towel, grabbed my bathrobe, and ran to the living room. Sure enough, G-Dog had tried to use my brand new bread knife to open a huge package of play-doh toys. He had grabbed the blade part of the knife and one of the serrations had punctured the meaty part of his middle finger between the 2nd and 3rd knuckles -- and it was bleeding profusely. It turned out to be very superficial -- no stitches needed -- but it was a great lesson for G-Dog.
How many times have I said to him, "No knives, G-Dog. They're too sharp for little guys to use." And over and over, he says back, "No, no, Mommy, I just want to do it myself." This battle used to happen repeatedly, but thanks to first-hand experience that could have been so much worse, G-Dog has learned his lesson.
The last one happened yesterday. He climbs. I'm certain it's how he gets to so many things he shouldn't get to. I was unloading the dishwasher and talking to a friend on the phone, with all three boys swirling around my legs like a hoop skirt. They were all up in my business, and they didn't really have a reason to be: no unfulfilled needs, no entertainment lacking, just general Mommy-proximity compulsions. Which drive me batty. G-Dog decided it would be a great time to climb up on the counter and, I don't know, search for hidden candy in the cabinets. (There isn't any.) I turned around to put something on the opposite counter and heard a terrible crash. G-Dog had fallen off the counter into the dishwasher, then rolled onto the floor. Amazingly, he was uninjured. The dishwasher was a little worse for the wear, but I fixed it eventually.
G-Dog was astonished that he could fall. I believe he absolutely thought he was invincible. We had a long talk about taking risks, and being obedient. He listened. He improved.
I am grateful for all of these experiences because they could have been so much worse. In each case, I think the Lord blessed us with an experience that was sufficient to teach the lesson, but not damaging enough to cause any permanent scars. G-Dog's behavior, in each case, has been altered drastically and each lesson he learned was one that I tried to tell him, but he needed to step in it himself to discover it was poop. They could have all been so much worse. I pray that the trend will continue -- that he will only wade into the shallow end of muck instead of deciding to bathe in it.
God give me the strength to stand back and watch him experience life instead of continually trying to intervene on his behalf. If I'm not mistaken, that intercession has already taken place. And though I will try my best to protect all of my children from the world, I would not presume to take away from them the opportunity to develop their own testimonies of the Atonement of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I have a feeling these boys will continue to drive me to my knees -- at least, I hope they do. Otherwise, I'm not sure we'll make it.