I’ve had the good fortune of spending the past several days with my daughter and grandsons. It’s a rare treat. We’ve made numerous trips to the park, played football, watched Room on the Broom at least a dozen times. I highly recommend it. That’s one of the benefits of having grandchildren. They introduce you to all sorts of wonderful new books and shows. I’ll probably even watch it when the boys aren’t around.
My daughter and I talked a lot over the past few days about parenting. She has what she calls a “threeanger.” I had never heard the term before, but it amused me. I have a jaded view of my own days as a young mother. I am the mother to one son and three girls, and I’ll confess to thinking my girls were just near about perfect and that their brother was a more typical child. If you ask the girls they’ll say it’s because their brother motivated them to be better behaved.
To be clear, the boy never did anything horrible. He just was so willful at times, whereas, his sisters were almost always so compliant. (Or so we thought at the time) And for the record, being a compliant person isn’t necessarily the best route to go. I much prefer a person who is an independent thinker, but not in a self-destructive fashion.
As my daughter and I were talking – she sitting on the kitchen floor, me in the denim chair watching the birds at the feeder – she shared a story from her own childhood about a time she got disciplined for something she didn’t do. It was a seemingly little thing, but, in her memory at least, a very large and looming hurt. It involved one of her other sisters, who had told a lie on her.
This all happened a very long time ago, but even so, it hurt her and made her for the longest time resent the sister who had really done the dishonest thing. I think in her young girl’s mind, she couldn’t understand how her parents failed to ferret out the truth of the matter and rightly punish the one doing the wrong deed.
“I am so sorry I failed you on that,” I said. “Please forgive me.”
My daughter laughed it off, of course, saying how silly it all was, it happened so very long ago.
Not surprisingly, I didn’t remember the incident at all and told her so. But I did remember another time when she hauled off and slapped her sister across the face for some other offense. I walked into the room at the exact moment that slap happened. I remember it as one of the few times when I was forced to take stern disciplinary actions against the girls. They were very young, maybe 8 and 6 at the time.
I was intrigued to discover my daughter doesn’t remember that incident as well. “Maybe that’s because we remember the wrongs done to us better than we remember the wrongs we do to others,” I suggested.
Selective remembering, I suppose, is the only way we can manage to live with the wrongs we inflict upon others.
I think it is important that when the moment arises to make an apology for any wrongs we inflict, we do just that. I knew my daughter wasn’t expecting me to say I was sorry. She wasn’t fishing for an apology. She simply was recounting a moment from her childhood that’s stayed with her because of the unfairness of it all.
When we are treated unfairly, unjustly, it is perfectly natural to want to see that wrong righted. We are created in the image of a just God. This desire we have to make all the wrong things right is a reflection, I believe, of God’s character.
That’s one of the joys of being a writer, you know. The opportunity to put the chaos of life into some semblance of order. The opportunity to create a world where all the wrongs are made right. The chance to make a good story – a great story – out of those discombobulating moments in life that make absolutely no sense.
For a good writer, everything that happens has purpose: Our wrongdoings. The wrongs done to us.
It can all be turned into a powerful story.
We writers really should wear t-shirts that warn others: “Your screw-ups become my plot lines.”
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Burdy (Mercer University Press).