I was left in charge of breakfast time this morning whilst my wife was at a hospital appointment (nothing serious for those who know her!).
Whenever I am left with the kids, in my humility, I am certain that I will manage to create a scene of idyllic peace and joy. Like the front of the Mini Boden catalogue. But dressed in Primark. Today started well.
I sat at the garden table having a particularly long time of Bible study and prayer. My 4 year old cuddled up to me. He then pottered off to collect paper and pens to do drawing. He even went, when asked, on his own, to get a book to lean on. After I had held every aspect of the day before the Lord, we put out the washing together. A task that I am particularly gifted at.
Shortly afterwards my 8 year old arrived sleepily downstairs, followed by the 5 year old. There were cuddles and then I offered to make pancakes for breakfast. By make, what I mean is, take the mixture my wife had left in the fridge out and fry the pancakes. The children sat round the garden table, ferrying the delicious home cooked breakfast fair from the kitchen and then returning the plate to me with a warm smile and a polite request for more. Well almost...
It was at this stage that I should have spotted that I had not somehow managed to recreate Eden. I made a schoolboy error. I cooked 4 pancakes at a time and then presented them on a plate to 3 children. Every single time there was an argument, some sharp mental arithmetic and a paternal intervention to say who should get the extra pancake.
The sense of tranquility was restored by a mug of milk each. Which the trio received with the sort of gusto usually only reserved for an Enid Blyton book. Breakfast over, they returned to the art and I though I'd risk a shower.
I will admit that I might have got a bit over involved in the crossword whilst astride the dunny, but I'm pretty sure it was only a few minutes later I was standing under the water reflecting on what an excellent parent I am.
I only had time to get the shampoo in my eyes when I thought I heard loud screaming over the sound of the water drumming on my head. At first I pretended I hadn't. Then I though that perhaps it was coming from the neighbours. This was unlikely as they appear to have gone away, but worth a go! Despite my best efforts to avoid the inevitable, I had to admit the screaming was coming from our garden. I leapt out of the shower across the bathroom to the open window and looked out. There was one child bawling, in pain and distress, and another hiding in a towel, that was dangling from the washing line, shouting the mantra, "I said sorry! I said sorry!"
Every year I make the same mistake. That when holidays come around, we all become nicer people. I fall into the trap of thinking that our bad behaviour, our selfishness, our anger, are all the result of our circumstances. So if my kids are at home, playing, well rested and full of wholesome home baking they will be nice to each other. They're not.
Many parents are wiser than me. They can go to the other extreme of dreading the holidays. Of longing for the day that a teacher will take their little sinners off their hands for the majority of the time. I remember a friend of mine who was a teacher who had 4 children, including 3 robust lads. He couldn't wait to get back into the classroom in September, where he felt he had more control!
The Bible teaches us that our children are not neutral little bundles of niceness, that given a bit of space and a few Mary Berry recipes will always share their toys. David said in Psalm 51:5
"Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me."
At the same time it tells us that raising our children to know the Lord is a wonderful privilege given to parents. Moses tells the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6:
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
This means that we shouldn't think that going on holiday will be heaven on earth. It won't. Often travel, unfamiliar beds, disturbed sleep, heat and a host of other things, make life harder! We mustn't think that we or our children will become less sinful away from work or school.
Yet at the same time the holidays are a precious opportunity to enjoy time together with friends and family. And, as far as our children are concerned, they're a great opportunity to spend a little longer teaching them the Bible, praying with them and talking to them about the grace of God in our Lord Jesus. Grace that means that we are loved even though we fight over pancakes, shove our sister off the bench and then hide in the washing!
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