“Sir, are you really calling the police because there is a squirrel with a long tooth in your yard?” – Police Department to my husband.
In his defense, he had to call. It was Saturday morning and we were wrapping up a leisurely waffle breakfast when I noticed a new squirrel in our backyard. This little guy stood out because he was eating his waffle (don’t judge – it’s their weekend too, you know!) on the right side of his mouth. Sticking out of the left side was a gigantic tooth that looped up and around, rubbing the fur off his face. A quick Google search told me that this squirrel was not going to survive unless someone caught it, sedated it, and trimmed that crazy tooth. I knew we needed to get help - call animal control – this is an emergency!
My husband didn’t share my concern.
That’s when the tears started. First me. Then the kids. Then he caved.
As it turns out, the Police had absorbed Animal Control due to budget cuts. To say they weren’t concerned would be an understatement. We were to “let the squirrel take its natural course”.
This, obviously, led to more tears.
I know what you’re thinking: It’s a squirrel, toughen up, this is life. And you’re right – this is life. And that’s why I cried. Hard.
There is something heart wrenching about watching your children stumble upon the realities of our world. Sometimes bad things will happen. Sometimes there’s nothing we can do. Sometimes (many times) other people aren’t going to care about what you care about.
So yes, I cried about a squirrel… but really its so much more than the squirrel. It’s grieving what’s broken in the world. It’s grieving that this world is broken at all. It’s grieving that my young idealistic children are slowly making this realization.
And don’t most of us go through this ourselves? As our lives sprout we believe that if we’re good, the world around us will cooperate. We believe that if we’re kind, others will respond likewise. We believe that if we do the right thing we will be safe and successful and life will play out the way we believe it should.
By the time we have roots and branches we’ve seen and felt enough to know better.
An introduction to brokenness comes as a tidal wave for some: sexual abuse, chronic illness, natural disasters, or the death of a parent. I cannot even pretend to understand the profound impact these events have on a young heart. For most of us though, our realization is more of a trickle. Throughout our days we encounter moments that highlight the truths we’d rather have kept in the dark.
Our family has walked through many of these ‘enlightening’ moments over the last few years, necessitating some difficult and sometimes painful conversations. Some of these include being hurt by friends, the disparity of wealth in our community, and the death of a family member. Beyond that, the extinction of dinosaurs, where meat comes from (and what makes it more or less ethical to purchase), the marketing and selling of things that are bad for us, and the sickening reality that some people just want to hurt kids.
The thing is, no matter how much I want to tell my boys that the world is whole – no matter how much I want to shield them from knowing that it’s not - I can’t. And I shouldn’t.
We keep media to a pretty innocent level in our home – there are certain topics we generally steer away from – and we don’t alert them to every tragedy that crosses our headlines. Still, we don’t lie to them. We do let them know, on their level, what disappointments and dangers loom. We are open about the brokenness that they are sure to bump up against.
Rather than a reactive stance of explaining-away or putting a rosy spin on everything, we take a proactive stance of preparing our children for what they will inevitably discover. We take opportunities now, while they’re young and under our care, to get their toes wet. We let them experience a bit of unfairness. We encourage them to take risks with new opportunities and face fears out of their comfort zone. We resist the (very strong) urge to protect them from every feeling of discomfort or pain.
Help them face fears and hold up against disillusionment now while they have the luxury of your support. They’ll be better equipped for a healthy process in the years to come.
And this goes for us as well. Step into that new social scene – take on that project that’s a little intimidating – volunteer in a place you’d rather pretend doesn’t exist. It’s good for us, it’s also good for our kids to observe us stepping forward, taking risks, opening our eyes, facing fears and coming out the other side.
Ultimately, the key to coming out the other side well, as children and as adults, is a deep understanding of identity and purpose. When we know who we are and the value we hold – when we know why we’re here and the role we play in all of this – we’re less likely to be thrown for a loop when the landscape shifts.
There are so many opportunities to help your children understand their identity, for us these moments are some of the strongest. Upon every hard realization, every burden, every tear, we have a chance to invite our children to walk with us – a chance to remind them that this is why we’re here, this is what this is all about. We’re binding wounds, working for wholeness, bearing light, and loving this world.
This points them forward, upward. It helps them, and us, have a grounding that is not dependent on a pain-free sheltered life. It turns those moments from despair and disillusionment to moments that propel us forward, stepping more fully into who we are, stepping more confidently into our role as healers.
Our family has an identity, we know who we are, we know our role in the world – the darkness does not change that. The bad things that we see from our path, that cross our path, and that sometimes will explode on our path do not change who we are, what we are called to, and what we are working towards.
When this is rooted in our souls – we aren’t easily shaken.
May we embrace who we are and our role in this world. May we walk confidently forward with eyes wide open to see the brokenness around us and where we can extend healing. And may we, with grace and strength, invite our children into the process of restoring their world as well.