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Kids Can Be Mean

Kids Can Be  Mean

“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

John 13:35

Kids can be mean.

I brought my toddler to his first arts-and-crafts camp of his entire lifetime, and everyone was pumped. It was just for an hour at a local park down our road, but still. I packed up baby too, and on the drive over, we were giggling over the idea of using scissors and the odds of handling a glue stick. What if we used popsicle sticks? Oh wait, can you imagine PAINT?! It was magical.

We pulled in, walked through the threshold of a newly-renovated cabin, and found a spot among the other toddlers and preschoolers chomping at the bit to throw glitter around like confetti. The director coughs, directing our attention her way, saying, “Welcome! Let’s get started with a game outside. Everyone grab hands with each other, and we’ll walk out in a chain.”

Cue the heartbreak. 

Oscar, giddy and excited to run around in the open forest outside, runs to the first kid he sees, but instead of an equally welcoming reception from this child, the delinquent had the nerve to pull her hand away, hiding it behind her back so she didn’t have to hold his hand. What was her problem?

Oscar was somehow unphased. I guess he has a sister, so he knows girls can be girls. So he moves on, looks to his left, sees a boy his height, and runs over, bending over to try to grab his hand, and I see quickly we’ve got another hoodlum on our hands. This boy retreats and grabs the hand of someone else, shooting Oscar a death glare. What’s the deal, kid?

Oscar? Again, unphased. He must intrinsically believe the saying “third time’s the charm,” because he raced to what appeared to be a sweet girl at the end of the line. Sheep in wolf’s clothing is what I say. She puckers out her lip, and hides her hand under her armpit. Give me a BREAK, child.

I’m stressed at this point. Palms a little bit sweaty. I mean, how dare these kids. Oscar is the sweetest, funnest, coolest kid on the block. Every single one of them would be lucky to be his friend. Also, re: Who are their mothers, what kinds of things are they teaching them, and where are they anyways? 

As I’m scanning the room for a face that looks remotely nice, Oscar must have decided it wasn’t worth wasting another second looking for a hand to hold, because I then saw him sprint past the curtains, run into the open space of the field, and while waiting for the other kids to catch him, he threw his head back and giggled. So happy to be there, just so joyful, and ready to play the game. 

Although the rest of the hour raced by fantastically with no other altercations, I came home a little hung up by that slight exchange in the cabin. Not in an over-reacting kind of way, but more of a realization that this was just a taste of what he (and I) are sure to experience in the years ahead. 

Kids can be mean. They won’t all want to be his friend. And as much as I wish it weren’t true, not everyone will offer a hand to Oscar even when he’s looking and asking for it. And no matter how often I chaperone field trips, volunteer in the classrooms, or invite his friends over to our house, I most certainly won’t always be there watching, cheering him on, rebuffing a hard situation, exchanging a smile over the heads of other kids, and reassuring him that they’re not worth it anyways. He will be alone in that sometimes. And that really makes me sad.

I’ve always heard the golden rule as, “Treat others the way you want to be treated,” but for various reasons, the golden rule is not always easy to follow in our conversations and interactions with people that are hard to love, the ones we can’t quite figure out, the people we avoid at the grocery store, and those that just rub us the wrong way. But now I’m thinking, we don’t even need to concentrate on that person to overcome our resistance; we just need to envision their mom.

Because truth be told, everyone is some mother’s child. And behind every face is a mom desperately hoping for the same thing; that whoever crosses paths with their kid would simply be kind to them. As a mother myself, a more impactful, revised rendition of the old adage would be, “Treat others the way their mom wants them to be treated!” Genius, right?

I’m not saying we have to be everyone’s best friend or their #1 fan. We don’t have to love every quirk, embrace every one of their ideas, or smile at every word that comes out of their mouth. But from a pleading mother to another, what would it look like if we simply tolerated one another? No more scoffing. No more death glares. No more leaving anyone out on purpose. 

But if we’re asked to hold hands, we hold their hand. If we’re assigned to the same project, we resolve to join forces. If we live on the same street, we wave as they drive past. And if we end up at the same party, we’re cordial in our conversation. 

This plea for unity and harmony is not new. God said it in various ways all throughout the Bible: love your neighbor as yourself, bear with each other and forgive on another, do good to all people, stop passing judgment on one another, build each other up, and in humility, value others above yourselves. 

My mama bear heart now can just hear the parental tone in God’s voice: “Please, stop fighting. Stop tearing each other down. You guys are brothers and sisters in Christ, so just bear with one another. Carry each other’s burdens. Do what you can to be like-minded and sympathetic to one another.” And if this is my heart as an imperfect mom who shows her flaws all too often, how much more does God’s heart swell as a perfect Heavenly Father when he sees his kids uniting together?

He said that everyone will know we are his disciples by our love for one another. So what if today we put loving others as priority number one, setting aside any hostility or annoyance, and simply being respectful and kind to one another? And if it’s hard to love the person in front of us, we envision their beseeching mother instead and find kindness there.

Above all else, if you attend the same arts-and-crafts camp as us next month, please make sure your child holds my son’s hand when they make a chain to run outside. If your child reaches for his hand, I've got to believe, you’ll be forever exalted in the heavenly realms forevermore.

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    Sally Cranham is a singer and writer from the UK. She uses biblical narrative and her own experience to write deeply into the heart of the human condition. She currently works as a volunteer for SourceMN as their Arts Outreach Coordinator and has lived as a Residential Volunteer at Source’s anti-trafficking transitional annex alongside women who have come out of the life of prostitution.
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