Raising Cain

A few days ago, my dear sweet dork of a husband announced on Facebook that he and our 6 year old son spent their lunch time cataloging the life lessons to be gleaned from Star Wars.  He had quite an impressive list of life lessons laid out, and if it hadn't caused one of my more severe cases of dork-overload-itis (kind of like an allergic reaction in that I am unable to be too close to the source of the dork-ery until the flare up subsides), I would have have been more grateful of the substance of some of those life lessons.

Instead, I found myself wondering what it meant for the character development of our children that we are so comfortable mining pop culture for the life lessons we are passing on to them.  Why weren't we throwing a little Ruth and Boaz at them, maybe some Jacob and Esau references over our morning Cheerios?  I wondered what our more devout/conservative/whatever you want to call it cyber friends would think of advocating a life built on jedi principles.  Aren't all the life lessons our children need found chapter and verse in the book of books?

Sure, it's easy to say that the meat of all the best age old stories, the battle between right and wrong, just sells better when you add light sabers. But aren't we supposed to be raising children who are beyond that? What if needing a light saber to convince our children to make the right choices is part and parcel of the problem?

It's probably a good time to mention that we have received several "he had a rough day" reports when picking up our boys from school and church lately.  You know the kind, the trying to be nice but belying a real genuine desire to give the little monsters a good smack kind of report.  The kind that start with "I don't know if it's because he's getting over a cold or what, but he was REALLY hard to control today" and then launch into stories that detail varying degrees of hyperactive hulking out.

Sometimes I fear we are getting it all wrong.  Our children are barely contained tornadoes of writhing, flinging, screeching, smacking, leaping insanity.  Much of the day, every day, they are contained.  But at any moment, one of them could randomly erupt in a strange monkey call, climb onto a table and commence a mania driven seizure-slash-dance.  At all times, no matter how calm and collected we may seem, Sam and I are ready for and expecting the thin veneer of appropriate behavior to dissolve in a flurry of flailing limbs and guttural cries.

I cannot count the number of times I have asked myself what must people think of us when our children have unleashed their inner Tasmanian devil at inopportune times. Sam is quick to tell me that it doesn't matter what everyone else thinks, but he is also quick to tell me how much the behavior of other children we know reminds him of those children's parents. As I leave the grocery store in disgrace yet again, hiding behind dark movie star in disguise sunglasses, I can't help but feel like my boys' unrestrained energy must be the result of some hideous breakdown in our parenting style.  I wonder if Adam and Eve would have felt this way, if they'd had Facebook friends and judgmental old ladies observing them on the cereal aisle.  I wonder if people would have whispered about how old Adam and Eve were really screwing it up with little Cain.

Back at home, we head out to the back yard.  The boys fight over their favorite swing, but I redirect Lincoln to keep the peace.  Linc climbs to the top of the fort and performs an unintelligible soliloquy for the grass and the fence and the dogs laying in the sun beneath him.  I applaud wildly because although they are not real words yet, he is so happy to try and speak.  Nico swings as high and fast as he can on the much coveted swing, laughing and kicking at the dirt beneath him as he passes the ground each time, haughty and indignant of the clutching gravity that usually holds him to the big ball of dirt he was born onto.


Linc grabs onto the frame of the play fort and swings out over the slide, swooping back and forth over the green plastic without any intention of riding it back down to the ground. I am past worrying about their unruly behavior in the store.  I am clapping and calling out praise for their bravery and trying to take pictures that come out as colorful blurs. 

I am realizing, more and more, that my children's completely inappropriate exuberance is absolutely my fault.  When I think of how many years they will be forced to behave, comply, stand in line, regurgitate material, hold their tongues, and accept all manner of dulling down their impulse to fly and swing and scream and dance, then I remember why I have spent every day with them encouraging them to use their voices, to pump their legs, and to stretch out their wings.  Before long, they may find they wake every morning to tie a pretty silk noose around their necks, or pull on a uniform and pin on a name tag.  But today, they will run around their yard shirtless, screaming and leaping and flying through their childhood. 

So, they sometimes don't sit still when they are supposed to, they are loud and assume that any structure they encounter is pretty much daring them to climb it.  It's not ideal and certainly doesn't fit in with the sit politely and try not to make too much noise model we've generated for today's children, but neither does it mean they are disobedient, unruly monsters.  They are, after all, our children, and we've been indoctrinating them with what we believe matters, even stooping so low as to sell it in pop culture terms to help drive the point home.

Just last night, I watched Nico tell a cousin that he shouldn't hit because that's not what jedi do.  I watched him protect his little brother from being trampled by another angry child.  Over an over again, we've seen Nico seek out the new, scared child in a group and befriend him or her, holding hands and soothing frightened tears.  Many of his best friendships started that way, a fact that has earned him something like hero status to those friends he rescued at their most vulnerable point.

Linc's sweetness and compassion is legendary.  When someone cries, Linc rushes to the scene to shower the poor soul with hugs. When he rounds the corner that leads to his classroom each morning, a chorus of older children cry out "Lincoln!" and won't let him pass without giving him high fives and hugs. 

We may not be winning any theological parenting awards, but little by little I see that they are getting it.  They are picking up the real message, the important truths we are working to imbue in their lives.  When I look at them in their best moments, shining like little beacons of love and compassion, I am reminded of the timeless words of Yoda: "Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter."

And luminous they are, too, except in those occasional moments when they descend into a wrestling match on the couch over ownership of the remote.


  1. You know what? That was fun and made us laugh. You sound like Liz. You really do.


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