Convicts and Bad Things

Is it just me, or does Halloween make you oddly nostalgic? Although I lump Halloween in with all of the holidays I now hate because they make me miss Molly, I can’t help but remember the friends I trick-or-treated with, the goldfish I won at the OMA carnivals, the pounds of candy I devoured, and the hilarious costumes I wore. The costumes, oh the costumes! Some of the favorites are the two years in a row that I was a Care Bear, the bird costume I wore the year Griffin had his accident (I looked like a drunk bird with my eye closed and my glasses half-cocked), and the convict costume of 1988. You know how costumes get worn once or twice and then are passed on or lost in a closet? Not my convict costume! i wore that thing for YEARS as pajamas. Eventually the pants turned to capri pants and finally to Bermuda shorts before Mom threw them out.

I’m surprised she let me wear it that long. That costume was a bone of contention between the two of us. After my orthodontist appointment one day, Mom took me to a nice store in Atlanta with TONS of Halloween costumes. Mom told me that I could pick ANYTHING I wanted. She gave me this open invitation as she gazed at the princess costumes and mentally planned for how she could accessorize me. I wandered around and touched all of the costumes (homegirl couldn’t see, yo). When I reached the convict costume, with it’s wide, black, and white stripes and little beanie, the heavens started singing and I knew that it was kismet. Mom kept re-directing me toward the colorful and bright girly costumes but my stubborn strong-willed self wouldn’t budge.

Now, i wasn’t a super girly-girl back then, but I also was not a tom-boy. Why was my heart set on portraying myself as a hardened criminal? Funny you should ask! One day, I saw some convicts wearing the same striped outfit on television. If you know me, you know I have always had a great fear of policemen. When I was little, I assumed they were only around to cart people off to jail for any law infraction. When I saw the men on TV, I whirled around to my dad and said, “Daddy, have you ever been pulled over by the police?” Now, I can’t be certain that he even heard the question, but he responded, “Yes, baby.” My 7 year-old brain followed my logic train, “So, you had an outfit like they’re wearing?” Okay, so now, knowing what I know about the penal system and my dad, I’m sure he was not really listening to me. He replied again, “Yes, baby.” Fast forward to the costume store in Atlanta, I HAD to have that costume, because it was just like what my dad had worn! On Halloween night, all of the girls my age were in their precious Rainbow Brite or Strawberry Shortcake costumes, and I proudly strutted around as a hardened criminal. A short, blind, clumsy, crooked looking 1st grade criminal.

As an adult, that costume has wound up in many conversations with my mom. One day, to stop her from thinking that I had only chosen that costume to make her life hard, i told her the truth of why I insisted upon it. She started hysterically laughing and said, “Why didn’t you just tell me that?” I said, “I was a kid. I thought yall knew.” Boom. There it is. Parents and kids communication differences. Kids need things explained explicitly so that they can explain themselves. Parents and adults have forgotten that kids need explicit instructions and explanations because many concepts are ingrained in their brains.

I have found this to be true as a teacher. Some times, I forget to explain every little thing that a kid needs to do, but when I get a paper with no name and one problem worked, I can only be irritated with myself when I remember that I forgot to tell them to write their names and do ALL of the problems. Even with my high school cheerleaders, bless their hearts and mine. I kind of assumed that they could do some more reading between the lines of directions, but that just leads to wasted time and effort. I have to be specific. ‘Open the water jug, and put water in it, then put the top back on the jug, and bring it back here.”

If you are an adult reading this, then you probably see how this fits into ROCK. If you’re a kid, or an adult who had too much fun this weekend, I’ll explain. Radical, open conversations have to be explicit. That’s radical. As much as you want to have a Danny Tanner/Full House lesson that applies to everything in your kids’ lives, it’s just not realistic. Kids can’t make the connections. You have to TELL them.

This is not how it works:

Parent: Hey daughter, I know that  you got in trouble at school today for writing a cuss word on your paper. You are going to have to face the consequences, but I am so glad that you admitted your mistake. You never have to be fearful of telling the truth.

Kid; Okay, Thanks.

Parent; (assumes that the kid will remember this and know it applies when they are a teenager)

If the kid grows up and makes a bigger mistake, like, oh, I don’t know, getting pregnant. She probably is not going to equate conceiving a child with writing a cuss word in 3rd grade. You have to tell them often, explicitly, and repeatedly.

Today, a dear friend sent me this link. First: can I get an amen? Amen! This dude is legit and spot on. Second: How many times have we uttered the phrase, “Everything happens for a reason”? How many???? Too many! When I start to think about the theological implications of this statement versus its antithesis, I get a headache. But, I’m adult. It’s taken me a lot of life experiences to rectify my belief in the omnipotence of God and the presence of free will. (Most days, some days I’m still confused and wrestling with it.) So, when we tell our kids that everything happens for a reason, we could be setting them up to think they have to lie down and take whatever is happening in their lives. I can’t help but think that Molly, who was raised in a culture to believe that things happen for a reason, thought that the consequences of her slip up were ordained by God. We should have told her that sometimes, bad stuff happens and there’s no reason for it.

So, please. Have radical, open conversations with your kids. Be explicit. Tell them that bad things happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people. Bad things happen. We live in a world where Eve took a bite of the apple. Life isn’t perfect. We screw up. God doesn’t plan for us to screw up. Sometimes bad things happen and we haven’t screwed up. (I can’t imagine what horrible thing I did in my first 9 months of life to deserve cancer. Except, that I was premature. Maybe God doesn’t like people who are early.) While bad things don’t happen for a reason, humans usually have a reason for their actions. I couldn’t explain my reason for aspiring toward a life of crime to my mom when I was in first grade. Molly couldn’t explain her reason for hiding her pregnancy in 12th. Be the reason your kids talk.

More than meat loves salt,



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