When I was in the fifth grade, I was one of six girls in my class at school. I was not particularly "cool", a fact the other girls relished reminding me of often. It came to pass that one of those girls, Lynn, was having a birthday party. I was the only one who didn't get an invitation and they made sure I knew it.
The day Lynn handed out her invitations was a rainy one. This was, of course, back in the day when you still had recess outside, even if it was raining. Most of us huddled close to the school building in an effort to stay dry under the awning. It wasn't long before Lynn and her friends devised a mischievous plan, one that would provide them with some much needed entertainment.
"Erin, if you go out in the rain and sit in that big puddle and count to 10, you can come to my birthday party," Lynn informed me as the other girls laughed.
I'm not sure what I was thinking or why I did it, but I did. Ten humiliating seconds later, I was drenched, but, had an invitation in hand.
That night, I laid crying in my bed. My dad came into the room I shared with my sister and kneeled by my bed, as was his custom, to say nightly prayers with me. He saw the tears and gently asked what was wrong. I recounted the entire ordeal and he, in his wisdom, gave me two simple choices: Go to the party or not go. I would have to decide what was the right thing to do.
I didn't sleep much that night. I knew that, if I went, I'd be going for all the wrong reasons. If I didn't go, it somehow seemed like they had won.
In the end, I decided to go. I remember sitting at Chuck E. Cheese (actually, in my town is was "Showbiz Pizza") in the same booth with Lynn's mom and grandma because there was no room for me at Lynn's table. I remember having a lovely conversation with them and them commenting on what a nice girl I was. But, mostly, I remember wondering why on earth had I chosen to come.
Fast forward 25 years. I am now an adult with children of my own and the "Puddle Story" is often talked about as they maneuver through life and relationships and good kids and bad kids and kids you want to be friends with and kids to stay away from. We talk about how I, as a fifth grader, could have handled that situation so differently and what WOULD have been a better way, anyway?
But, for some reason, this week, something hit me like a ton of bricks. A part of this story that I had never thought about before. And it broke me. It broke me as I sat in my living room praying for my children and I ended up in a puddle again. But, this time, it was a puddle of my own tears as they pitter pattered on the old wood floor.
My parents had an opportunity to "save" me. They could have forbidden me from going to the party. They could have come up to the school and "had a talkin' to" with the principal or my teacher or, maybe even kicked some fifth grade girl butt. They could have called some parents. They could have written some letters.
But, they didn't. They let me suffer. They let me suffer at the hands of the "mean girls." They let me suffer through the worst birthday party EVER.
All the while, I am certain they were suffering more
. I only know this because now that I'm a parent putting myself in their shoes, I can't imagine the guts it took to send me into the lion's den that was Lynn's birthday party.
As parents, do we not hurt when our children hurt? Do we not want to "save" them from the meanies of this world? When we hear that someone is messing with our kid is our first instinct not one of a "mama bear?" I think it was Beth Moore who said, "A mama is only as happy as her saddest child." I know this to be true.
Too often, I have fought my children's battles. I have stood up for them when they should have been learning to stand up for themselves. I have called another mom to basically tattle on their child when I should have been letting two kids on the playground figure things out like two kids on the playground.
I have not allowed my children to sit in the gut-wrenching, humiliating, horrible consequences of the puddle that they chose to sit in in the first place.
As I reflect on my "Puddle Story" that is still teaching me lessons after 25 years, I surely do not want to shield my babies from such life- changing, character building lessons that have the potential to change their life and build their character in ways that I can not.
So, especially to you mamas sending your babies to school knowing what you know about how nasty this world can be: Let your babies suffer. Cry with them and cry for them. Pray with them and pray for them. Talk about lessons you've learned over the years. Tell stories. Read stories- ones that have characters who make bad decisions and have to suffer the consequences, characters who encounter evil forces and evil people but overcome evil with good. (There are a lot of great ones in the Bible.)
But, mostly, let them learn. And, if in the process of learning, they get hurt, let them hurt. And, then, let them learn from their hurt.
Maybe, when they are 37, it will hit them that you let them suffer because you knew it was for their good. And they, also, will end up in a puddle of tears in the middle of their living room.