Sometimes being a big sister feels like having a student placement in parenting. It’s like clinical school. Learning bits and pieces without having to be there all the time, and without any real responsibilities.
I “hang out” with my sister often but we rarely take her friends along because who knows what quirks other people’s kids have. But this little girl really wanted a big sister, so okay, I took both of them to the museum. It was then that I remembered that the four of us did the same day trip to the museum during school holidays when the girls were much younger. The museum hasn’t changed one bit. I don’t think I’m too different either, but who would have thought that the next time I would be back with two tall tweens instead of two little preschoolers. It was delightful, to see how the girls have grown in their thinking and in the way they interacted with the world around them.
Back then, the preserved animals were “aww… so cute”. Now, they gawked at the shelled out eyes from the little stuffed birds, noticed the pins that lined the butterflies so neatly in rows, and found the whole art of taxidermy rather sad and creepy. Walking past the mural on the big bang and evolution I wondered about the inevitable difficult questions that would come about our origins. How do you talk about what you believe as truth without being dismissive of the views held by others? How do you encourage them to think through these matters themselves, yet avoid the trap of promoting the view of “your truth is as good as my truth” (for surely, if one is absolutely true the other must be untrue). I haven’t figured that one out yet.
Cyclones are a big deal here. Back then, the only part of the exhibit that interested them was the scary dark room with a replay of the audio recordings from the cyclone’s howling and sheering winds. Now, I see them look at photos of the aftermath and read the captions with wide eyes, realising that around the same time of the year several decades ago, destruction happened in their neighbourhood. Everything was wiped out on the same soil where their houses, shops and schools now stand. Finally, we passed a local artist’s exhibit. He does weird art, you know, things like Hello Kitty with a blooded bird corpse hanging out from the side of its mouth. Distorted faces with eyes and noses swapped around. Stark nudity. “Ewwww, why do people even draw this stuff?”
I noticed how much better they were with each other too, waiting patiently when one wanted to see this and the other wanted to see that. Or in taking turns and sharing treats. As we sat in the same cafe where we had lunch together four years ago, I wondered what we talked about back then. Now they chatted about Minecraft, upcoming family holidays, and had a therapeutic whinge together about how they hated doing homework, ha.
On the way back we drove past the local Indigenous community, which is unfortunately a bit of a ghetto infamous for its myriad of drug, alcohol and domestic violence issues. Evidently, even the kids had some inkling that life there was different. “If they’re poor, then how come they have cars?” We had a rather grown up conversation on local social issues and how many times it wasn’t so much about the lack of money but how people went about spending it. And with that, we ended our day out.
When children sin
For all that she gets into trouble for at school, my sister is quite the angel at home (the contrast ever so much greater from being my sibling). Never losing her temper or getting into fights with family. Hardly ever being malicious or angry at even the most annoying of her friends. She also has this remarkable ability to know right from wrong, even in things that are not so straightforward. As in, in things that take adults a long time to think through and work out.
She, in her quiet way, would never say no to mum and dad. The flip-side to that is that instead of confronting them about what she doesn’t want to do, she agrees to their instructions then goes ahead to do something else in secret. Recently, mum found out how she had been “cheating” in completing her holiday homework by copying answer books. A few days later we found her hiding her iPad under the pillow so that she can pretend to nap whilst playing games in the dark outside of the agreed times. Needless to say we were surprised and disappointed, and had a serious talk. Not long after she was found doing something similar. When asked about it, she said it felt bad but she “couldn’t stop.”
Deliberate dishonesty in a child who clearly knows right from wrong is infinitely more worrying than say, poor academic abilities. Awhile ago I came across an article on “forgetting that your child is a sinner”. It’s worth a read. Parenting was the last thing on my minds but from the article I remembered some helpful ways to consider such matters. It is true that facing the child’s sin opens up an opportunity to point them to Jesus and the cross. In the end, we talked about how we all struggle with sin and addiction, how we need Jesus to be forgiven and be free from the chains that bind us. Our whole family, even my dad who is sort of Christian but not really, sat around my room, sharing a little about the sins we needed God to help us with. When I asked why she wanted to hear about our problems she said, “so I don’t feel so alone… I thought I was the only one!” No darling, we all need the grace of God.