Monday, December 4, 2006

Confessions of a box-checker's mother

Atticus is a by-the-book kind of man. He's a straight arrow. A good guy. Even-keel. Dependable. Steady. Mr. Nice Guy. A law-abiding citizen in the making. You tell this boy what to do, and nine times out of ten, he does it. Correction: he doesn't just do it. He fulfills the request to the letter. Then he waits (not always patiently) for you to check to make sure he has dotted every "i" and crossed every "t" before he considers himself excused. You can almost see the list behind his eyes when you give him the nod: Math ... check!

Some days, that's a little too much for me.

I am clearly not a box-checker. My style of everything is pretty free-form. Some people (usually those who don't know me very well) don't realize this about me simply because I somehow manage to get things done. What they don't know is that what drives me is not actually organization. It's habit, pure and simple. And habit, my friends, is not actually a personality trait. It's inertia.

But Atticus is not a creature of habit. He is a creature of rules. Everything is literal for this boy. Life--and it's circumstances--and categorically black or white for him. You see why I worry about this kid so much?

Sometimes this adherence to the rules is very, very good. When it comes to homeschooling, Atticus is a dream. You tell him what to do, and he does it--usually nose-to-the-grindstone-style--and he does it well. I know that he would absolutely thrive if I took the time to write out a weekly schedule for him. I know that down the road I will have to do that just to keep him sane; dealing with a mom who gives options is going to frustrate the tar out of him eventually. Typical dialogue: "What's next, mom?" "Well, you can do your journal. Or you can do your math. Or I put out the letter tiles for you practice spelling. What sounds good?" "Umm... I ... well ... which has to be done first?" "Doesn't matter to me. What do you want to do?" "Can't you just pick one, mom?" See where the schedule would help here? ;-) But for now, I figure, he's in 1st grade. He can humor me, just like I humor him, right? Plenty of time to be a box-checker later in his educational career.

Sometimes having all these boundaries--real or perceived--can really be a hindrance. The other day we were in the grocery store after church. It was well past lunch time, and everyone was on the verge of getting crabby. Desperate, I grabbed a big box of goldfish crackers and opened them, setting them in the back of the cart and telling the kids to snack as we shopped. Atticus was horrified. I told him that it was okay--I was going to pay for them, and eating them didn't change the price like it does with say, bananas. "Are you sure?" he asked, clearly calling my judgement into question. After all, we have a Rule about eating in the grocery store. Namely, we don't do it. If we did, I'd have to weigh Logan before going into the produce section and on the way out. But here I was ... the maker of The Rule ...wantonly disregarding the very rule I had laid down. Just to be safe, Atticus refused to eat any of the goldfish crackers. He wasn't wading into the grey area that the rest of us so gleefully embraced.

I do worry about Atticus. Someday the Lord is going to yank the rug out from under him. I hate to see that happen, but I know it's best for my son. He needs to learn that the Lord owns the rug. The Lord makes the rules about the rug. Being a box-checker can be a very, very good thing. Being honest and dependable and rock-steady ... all good things. But being pliable before the Lord is valued much higher than any human consistency we can applaud. Anything less is a Pharisee in the making.

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