Our son, “L.”, is very much like my husband and myself as school children: eager to do his best, even more eager to please his teachers, and almost always quietly obedient. We go out on the school playground every day that the weather permits after we pick him up, to burn off some energy and spend time with friends. A few days ago, L. pulled out of his backpack a folded piece of white paper. “Look at what I made, Mommy,” he said excitedly. I didn’t think much about it at the time, since we were out on the playground, so I just replied with a “neat”, or “cool”, or “nice”. There was no more time for explanation or description, as he set it down and ran off to play.
On the way home, the folded paper came out again, and he showed it to me (again). “I made this,” he said proudly. I know sometimes the kids have free moments here and there to draw or write or in this case, fold, so I figured this object must also have been the product of some communal free time. “When did you get to make that?” I asked. “Oh, I don’t know,” he said, and I thought this was a strange answer for a kid who seems to never, ever forget details of anything. “Well, you must remember when you made this,” I persisted, beginning to think that maybe there was more to the story than he was telling. “I guess I had some extra time, and so I just started folding,” he replied. I asked him what kind of work he had finished so early that he had time to make all those folds. Simultaneously, I was starting to be concerned about two things: first, was it all right that he had been trying to make a rather intricate paper airplane in class while others were working (probably not), and second, was he doing his work too quickly or was he really that fast (maybe so)?
Our ride between school and home is about twenty minutes long with all the traffic lights. As I drove, I asked more questions, because his answers were getting less confident. It was almost as if he was starting to realize that making a paper airplane might not have been the best choice. After much interrogation, as gentle as possible, this was the story: he had finished his reading assignment in class very quickly, which didn’t surprise me. He has always been a fast reader. Upon finishing, some of the other kids started folding paper airplanes. L. decided to try, too, and I suppose the fact that he’s in the back row, and there was a substitute teacher that day, added to his feelings that it wasn’t so bad. As the story unfolded (pun intended), though, I could tell he was becoming more aware of his folly.
By the time we got home, he was well aware of my disappointment in that choice. We talked about respect for teachers and classmates, about other appropriate things to do when he finishes his work early, and also about what he had read! He realized how disruptive and frustrating it might have been to some of the friends around him, to see him folding away while they were trying to read the story. He hadn’t thought about what impression he might have made on that substitute teacher, and he is learning that even when we don’t get caught, wrong choices are still wrong choices. I wasn’t surprised to hear that he could recount many great details from the story he’d read. I knew he hadn’t rushed over the words or gone too fast; he is just a quick and voracious reader!
In the grand scheme of things, making a paper airplane in the back of class is not a terrible transgression. In fact, when he told his Daddy that night what he’d done, I could see my husband trying hard not to smile or laugh, and then he simply told L., “Just don’t do it again.” The next day, I found the paper airplane in a wastebasket. We hadn’t told L. to throw it away, and we wouldn’t have minded if he had kept it for home use, but I know how his heart works. He is so much like his parents. Whenever we have to correct his behavior, or get him to stop and think about the possible consequences of certain actions, he is so very hard on himself and feels quite unlovable for a while. I know that feeling, and I hate that it comes up so easily in our hearts, even over little constructive criticisms. I think being able to handle discipline and grow from it, is even more important than the little lessons along the way, like “don’t make paper airplanes in class”.
What I thought was very interesting was watching L.’s feelings about the paper airplane change as I asked him more about its origin. He started out very proud of it, because he was only thinking about the product, not the circumstances or ramifications for others. As we talked about it, it became essentially an object of scorn, as he realized that by making it, he was disrespecting his teacher and fellow students, and that carried over all the way to doing something that displeased his parents. It’s all about perspective. I had to stop and think about the things I do, the words I say–they might all seem fine at the time, in isolation, but were they helpful, kind, useful, respectful to those around me? It’s easy to keep doing whatever we’re doing if we are only thinking about the moment at hand, and only about ourselves. God doesn’t want us to live that way, though; we are to live our lives looking upward to Him, outward to others, and then inward to ourselves. I know this might seem like a big leap to make from a folded piece of paper all the way to our life’s perspective, but then again, most of the profound wisdom I’ve taken in lately has come from seemingly small and everyday occurrences with my children. What a blessing, that everyone in the family can learn and grow from each individual’s experiences. May we always be humbly ready to take hold of those little surprising nuggets of wisdom when they appear.