Fonticulus Fides

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Courage and Cowardice

No, it’s not a long-lost Jane Austen novel. Just adventures in parenting around here.

With my old 1984 Toyota Corrolla on its last legs, we’ve been borrowing a minivan from my in-laws. It was parked on the street the other night and we were just sitting down to dinner when we heard a crash and a car pealing out. Some moron had rear-ended the minivan, taking out the bumper and back left quarter panel, then driven off leaving nothing but a bunch of broken pieces of his/her own car as a clue to his/her identity.

We called the police and filed a report, but we know there’s next to no chance we’ll be able to find the culprit. "Cowards!" my husband muttered angrily.

"What’s a coward?" Zooey asked. My husband explained that a coward was a person who did a naughty thing and then tried to run away or hide. He didn’t have to say that cowards were not welcome in our family – his tone made it abundantly clear.

Zooey was a little confused, though, so we spent several days answering questions like, "Do cowards have feet?" and "Do cowards live in houses?"

Well, last night, I had an opportunity to teach Zooey about courage and cowardice in a different way. I was feeding the baby (again) and Zoo was sitting at the dining room table cutting up scraps of paper. I’ve been encouraging more scissors work because he’s lagging a little behind in fine motor skills – mostly because he’ll use his left hand one week, then his right the next. I’m all for being ambidextrous (since I’m mostly ambi myself), but if he’s going to keep switch-hitting, he needs lots of extra practice time so he can get both hands up to speed.

Anyway, Zoo suddenly appeared at my side holding the scissors (correctly, with the blades clasped in his palm, pointed down), saying that something had happened. I looked at him and saw immediately that he had cut not one, two, but three holes into the Gap t-shirt he was wearing. Right in front, belly level.

I have to say he’s really very fortunate that I’d bought that t-shirt at a thrift store for $1.29. If I’d spent $10 (or more) on it, I would have had a major fit.

"You cut holes in your shirt!" I exclaimed.

Zooey burst into tears. "I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!" he sobbed.

He really was sorry. That was one of his favorite shirts – red, navy and white stripes. He wore it all the time, and it would easily have lasted him through the summer because it was still a little big on him.

"Maybe you can sew it up," he cried. I took a look at it, but the cuts were so close together and angled along the knit – no way to mend that effectively. So I had to tell him the shirt was ruined.

After he cried for a while, it was time for the lesson in courage. I told him he had to go down to the basement and tell Dad what he had done and that he was sorry and wouldn’t do it ever again. The tears regained full flow again, and Zooey desperately tried to talk me out of it, hiding the evidence by balling up the front of his shirt in his two fists.

"Look, Zooey," I said. "A coward tries to hide the things he does wrong. But a man stands up and says what he did and says he’s sorry. Dad and I want you to be a brave man, not a coward. So go down and tell Dad what you did. If you tell him yourself instead of letting him find out on his own, he won’t get so angry at you, because he’ll know you aren’t being a coward."

Zooey took one of those long, shuddering deep breaths that you do after crying for a long time and headed for the basement.

Just as he opened the basement door, I suddenly realized that my husband might actually get really angry, if he happened to have forgotten that this particular shirt was a cheap thrift-store purchase. So I called after Zooey, "Be brave! Tell Dad what you did and say you’re sorry, and he won’t get so mad at you." – loud enough for my husband to hear.

Poor little Zooey went slowly down the stairs and stood next to his father’s desk. "Excuse me, Dad," he began. And then he confessed the whole thing. My husband answered him in calm and measured tones, and Zooey was grounded from using scissors until Wednesday. Another apology and a hug, and it was all over with. You could tell from Zooey’s behavior, all smiles and relief.

I feel good about our parenting choices on this one. It’s an important thing, to teach our children to be courageous and to admit when they’ve done something wrong. It not only builds their character, I think, but it also prepares them for the confessional some day. I want my kids to know that admitting to our wrongs and making a good confession really does feel good. I want them to embrace the Sacrament of Reconciliation gladly, not to dread it. It’s good for the soul.



Post a Comment

<< Home