It had been a beautiful evening. We had taken a family walk on the beach, watched the kids play in the sand, and stared in awe at the ocean. Dusk was settling in gently, and we were going to prepare for bed when Levi asked if he could swim before we put on his jammies.
The pool was particularly alluring in the waning light, and we smiled and agreed and stripped the children down, allowing them to wade in the baby pool, an eighteen-inch deep section separated from the main pool by a small wall. Since we were only going to let them in a few minutes, we didn’t insist Levi wear his swimmies. His body was small and sleek without them.
While he was happily playing a game of catch with my mom, the ball went into the shallow end and began drifting into deeper waters. Levi climbed over the baby pool’s ledge and straddled the dividing wall. I told him to wait, that we would get it, though I wondered who, in fact, would retrieve it since all us adults were still in our regular clothes.
“I can get it,” he said, fixated on the ball, and I saw in his face that independent, self-sufficient look I’ve been seeing more often.
“No, Levi,” I said, my voice heavy with warning, calves mid-deep in the warm water. “Not without your swimmies.”
He turned and looked at me ever so briefly, his body leaning forward, “It’s ok,” he said, and I knew what we he would do.
“No!” I yelled, as I watched him lunge forward, his body hitting the water, and I had to decide, in a millisecond, if I was going to see if he could swim, or intervene.
My body decided before my mind could. I ran through the baby pool and leapt in, my clothes heavy against my skin. As I neared him, I saw his body under the water sinking, and I saw his eyes wide, alarmed. I reached down and yanked him up, pulling him close against me as he sputtered for air.
It was oddly quiet for a few seconds after I delivered him from the water. My mom was watching from the pool deck, Kevin behind me with Lucy. No one spoke. The shock of the moment had rendered us all silent.
The whole ordeal was probably five seconds long, but it shaved five days off of my life. Fear, as it so often does, gave birth to anger. “I said, no!” I said, my voice intense and angry. He refused to look at me. I am not sure what other words came after that, but I made my way to the pool steps and climbed out, my startled three-year old in tow.
“I don’t think you understand,” I said as I wrapped him up in an oversized towel until he looked like a sad little burrito. “You could have drowned.” His gaze was averted.
Do I go an explain a morbid truth to him, I wondered, or do I discuss it vaguely and preserve his innocence? Another in-the-moment decision.
His unfazed demeanor helped me choose. I explained to him, voice trembling, that he could have sunk, filled up with water, and died, never to see Mama or Daddy again.
“I want to go back in,” Levi said, looking longingly at the sparkling water.
My jaw dropped, appalled at his response. “Absolutely not.”
And he began to cry. Not the cry of remorse, but the cry of denied desire.
I let him wail as I rang out my jean shorts, then picked him up, plodding up stairs while having a quick dialogue with God.
How the heck am I supposed to handle this? I’m mad enough to scream at him. I want to assert my authority, to make him afraid. I can’t, of course, let him do this again…how do I make him aware that what he did was wrong? It’s like he doesn’t even realize the potential consequences of his actions! And where does he get off thinking he can blatantly disobey me like that?
I could almost feel God raising his eyebrow at me, amused. Like you’ve never thought you knew best, that you could do things without Me.
I laid Levi down on his bed, and walked away. He was still crying wildly.
I just don’t understand why he didn’t listen, why he didn’t obey. Doesn’t he understand I was trying to protect him? I was trying to keep him safe. I wasn’t trying to hinder him, I wasn’t denying him entry into the deep side of the pool. I simply wanted him to be prepared.
Mhmm. Preaching to the choir here, Kristin. “To obey is better than sacrifice.”
I knew that verse, but it connected to me in a new way. How many times had I looked back at God after His warning command and said, “It’s ok,” before plunging into something I wasn’t ready for? How many times had I sworn my affection and allegiance, but chosen my own path instead, to my own detriment?
I sighed. Of course, parenthood was teaching me more and more about my own insufficiencies. It has been since day one.
It wasn’t until I came back into his room with tears coming down my face that Levi finally looked at me in the eye. His expression shifted slightly, as if he was finally understanding that what he had done had affected me.
“You scared me,” I said. “You need to know that you are still little, and there are things that you’re not big enough to do. That’s why I told you no. And you need to obey. You need to allow me to be your Mama, and Daddy to be your Daddy.” His eyes stayed fix on my face. “God has given me to you, and it is my job to protect you and take care of you. I love you. I don’t want anything to happen to you. Do you understand?”
Unprompted, he whispered, “I’m sorry,” and reached for me.
I embraced my son, and wondered at God’s character. Surely, he doesn’t sit with strict condemnation when we disobey. His anger, though merited, is not merely all that he demonstrates, but grief at our own foolishness and the consequences that come along with it. I believe the heart of God addresses us with compassion through the disappointment and continually offers an invitation to return to his arms, no matter how rebellious we’ve been.
I take this lesson and stick it in my back pocket. I want to remember the feeling of little arms around my neck, of reconciliation. I need to remember that the grace I desire to extend to my children is the grace that has already been extended to me.
Oh, what a loving Father he is to me, to us all!