The Set Up
I sat there staring at the image on the computer screen in total disbelief. Our beloved elementary school had been vandalized. There it stood with graffiti carelessly scrawled on its brick. I was heartbroken and quite honestly shocked given the tight-knit community in which we live. “Why would anyone do this?” I asked. Although I knew the likely culprit, my husband humored my question with a response: “Probably a few teenagers with nothing to do that thought it would be funny.” As we talked, another question rose to the surface. What about our son? Do we tell our kindergartner or do we keep it to ourselves? Would our little guy understand? How would it make him feel? Would it make him sad or fearful? We decided it was a life-lesson he was ready to learn and made plans to go by the school the next day.
When morning came, we loaded all three of our children in the car. We were ready for a grand adventure of shopping and a special meal out to celebrate my birthday. My husband had gone back into the house to retrieve his coat. When he returned, his jovial smile had been replaced with a sterner expression. When I asked him what was wrong, he whispered that he had discovered some graffiti of our own in his home office. It was very apparent by the legible letters that our eldest was the culprit. I took a deep breath, looked over at my husband, and said, “And so the life lessons begin.”
It took just a few minutes to make it down the road to our little neighborhood school. My husband pulled up to the side of the school and I got out and opened our son’s door. The little guy was both puzzled and intrigued by our pit stop but took my hand and happily chatted as we walked down the sidewalk path to the building with the graffiti. As we got closer, he said, “Mommy? What’s that?”
It looks like someone wrote on the building,“ I responded. “Do you think that was a good choice or a bad choice?”
“A bad choice,” he said.
I asked him if it made him happy or sad that someone had drawn on his school building. He responded that he was sad. As I kneeled down to look him in the eyes, I told him, “You’re right. This is a very bad choice and it makes you sad and mommy and daddy sad and your teacher sad and the principal sad. Someone made a very bad choice and their choice hurt a lot of people.”
We returned to the car and we discussed as a family what we thought would happen. Our son volunteered his thoughts on the matter. “Whoever did that should have to clean it up.” We agreed that if you make a mess you should clean up the mess.
We continued with our day and all of our fun activities and soon had forgotten our little detour at the school. When we got home, I unloaded the two other children and got them down for naps while my husband brought our son into his office. As I peered down from upstairs I could see our son’s shoulders slump as my husband pointed out his unsolicited artwork on the wall behind his recliner. With our earlier conversation about the elementary school as reference, they concluded that his punishment should include cleaning the wall and using his own money to pay for the paint required to touch up the wall.
Some might consider this a bit over the top for such a small infraction. Some might blame me for leaving the sharpie marker accessible, but wall art at 6 because you’re bored can easily turn into graffiti on a public building at 16. And wall graffiti at 16 can turn into something even more serious as an adult.
A friend of mine recently shared this nugget of wisdom with me. She tells her children, “You’re still under my roof; and I’m going to do my best to prepare you for the days when you aren’t.”
A cute little squiggle or two with sharpie easily erased may not seem like a big deal but if I don’t treat it with the natural age appropriate consequences that should follow, why would my child consider the consequences later when the stakes are much higher?
I tell my kids: “use your head before you use your hands”. I am wanting them to consider their actions before they act.
If I want them to be adults that use their head before they use their hands, or mouth for that matter, I need teach them to do so as children. The news is filled with examples of those who acted before consulting their head or their heart. I wonder how different our news feed would be if we, as parents, realized that our little toddlers will become elementary students who will grow into middle and high school students. In a literal blink of an eye, they will be in college and entering the adult world, capable of making some pretty life-altering decisions. Decisions that can change the trajectory of their own life and others all because of access to a particular drink or vulnerable person or link or image on a computer screen.
Our family’s life verse is Ephesians 4:32 which says, “Be kind and tender to one another. Forgive one another, just as God forgave you because of what Christ did.”
It’s my prayer that my children will always be kind and tender and forgive. Yes, forgive just as we are forgiven in Christ.
A Worthy Legacy
They never found out who graffiti’d our beautiful school. A few days before everyone returned to school, the city came out and pressure washed the walls until there was no evident sign of the damage. We are sad that those involved didn’t come forward and admit their wrongdoing but we forgive them all the same. Just like we forgave our son for his poor judgment with a sharpie on a boring afternoon. We do hope he will learn from this and make a wiser choice next time. When the time comes for another trip down a sidewalk to talk through the poor choices of others or our children, we’ll remind them yet again how important it is to make the right choice. Because it may seem small but each small choice leads to a bigger choice that has a bigger impact. I pray their impact is huge. I pray they live transformed lives that point others to Christ. In order for this to happen, we must first start with cleaning walls decorated with a sharpie marker.