Amber and I have been feeling quite smug, of late.
I’m not sure what it was. I think it was probably the 70% rule. We’ve been trying really hard to ensure that 70% or more of our interactions with our kids are positive.
But something has changed in the boys. They fight less. They express affection more. They’re quicker to apologize to each other and to us.
It’s been quite blissful, actually.
On Sunday, after returning from church, Amber and I decided to take a much-needed nap. In the past, this has been extremely hard to do. Just when we fall asleep, the fighting begins. But this time, we were confident our newly reformed boys would leave us be.
And they did.
For an entire hour, we heard nothing but the songs of one anothers’ breaths and harpsical music playing in the background of our dreams (okay, corny poetism, I know).
We should have guessed something was up.
Silence generally means something is going on.
We woke a little after 3pm, when Stephen, our home teacher, arrived at our house. Still groggy and stubbornly clinging to the thought of sleep, I sat in the recliner, eyes half-closed and awaiting his words of wisdom for us.
Then I heard it–the sound like the grinding of gears, followed by a soft hiss.
Yup, the kids turned on the outside hose.
That’s not a terrible thing to do, mind you. Except our kids love to play with the hose, making mud puddles to tromp in, tossing the mulch across the garden’s barrier, and destroying our lawn in the process. Not to mention the fact they often leave the water on for hours.
I jumped out of the recliner as righteous anger bubbled in my belly.
“Be nice,” Amber said.
I took a moment to calm myself before I opened the door. I was certain I’d find the backyard swimming in mud with my boys, in their Sunday best, tromping in murky water like pigs.
But oh no. I saw something much different.
I saw my two younger boys (3 and 6) standing in front of the fire pit, dousing a massive fire.
Yup, that’s why my boys were so quiet. They were too busy roasting logs to fight.
And I was too stunned to be angry.
And, to be honest, I was dang proud.
Seriously! Have you ever started a fire without accelerants or fire starters? I have only, just recently, learned how to do it without using an entire box of matches. And here my six-year-old had done it.
But, of course, I couldn’t say that! So I told him he should never start a fire without supervision.
After dousing the fire, I went inside and told Amber what had happened. Ethan (the six year old) came in shortly after. Having had time to contemplate my parental approach, I summoned him. Holding his hands, I stared into his gray-blue eyes. His face was soft, as if preparing to break down into tears.
“Ethan,” I said. “You know that was a dangerous thing, right?”
“Do you know why?” I asked.
“Cuz it could have caught the grass on fire.” (As an aside, the grass did catch on fire. That’s why they started the hose).
“Right,” I said. “And if the grass catches fire, the plants can too. And then the house. And since mom and dad were sleeping, we might not have known to get out of the house. And then we could have been trapped in a burning house.”
A flicker of something passed through his face. Terror maybe? Fear? A realization that, oh my goodness, this could have been really bad.
I could tell he was on the verge of tears. Yes, my boy, what you did was very bad. Or at least, it was a very bad idea.
“But,” I said. “I am very proud of you.”
He blinked and cocked his head.
“I can’t believe you started a fire by yourself.” I grinned. “That’s amazing! How’d you do it?”
He smiled, then told me his method. (No kindling, just lots of leaves and twigs).
“Wow,” I said. “That’s really impressive. I didn’t think you could even strike a match, let alone light a bonfire. How many matches did it take you?”
“Umm.” He shrugged. “About eleven.”
I high-fived him and he went on his way.
As I sat in the recliner again, listening to Stephen give his message, I kept asking myself–did I do the right thing?
Should I have scolded him?
Should I be angry?
Should I make him feel bad?
Should I punish him?
I don’t know. I don’t have the answers to parenting. But, the way I see it, they get enough negativity and too little praise.
Will he again make a fire without supervision? Likely not. When he realized he could have killed his sleeping parents, his terror was real. And besides, I think next time, he’ll want to show me how he can start a fire.
So I don’t know if I made the right decision. But I do know this–I don’t regret not getting angry. I don’t regret showing him I love him. I don’t regret feeling proud of my little boy.
And, I suspect, I’ll never regret keeping my cool. Heaven knows I’ve regretted the opposite.