The Things We Love

Another guest post from BCC’s friend S.P. Bailey.

Brent played tee-ball. When he tried to get under the ball (he wanted a hit that sailed well over the infielders’ heads) his bat usually struck the thick rubber tee with a thud. The ball would leap from the tee, landing softly in the area covered by the pitcher who didn’t pitch. It was an unintentional bunt, and it was embarrassing. Brent was six and he weighed sixty-two pounds. He considered himself a power hitter.

The door to the den (virtually always locked) was left open one day. His father was at work, so Brent investigated. There were shelves of books, most he had never seen either parent reading. There were stacks of records with pictures of people with hair and beards and costumes he had never seen on a live adult. The built-in cabinet on the right held the slide projector and countless brown boxes of slide-trays. He wanted to look at some of last summer’s snapshots (Disneyland) but didn’t know how.

The built-in cabinet on the left held white boxes, narrow and long. He pulled some out and read the hand-written labels: Topps 1981, Fleer 1982. Baseball cards. Brent emptied a box on the floor. He examined each picture, sorting the cards into power hitters and the rest. Some he folded in half and stuffed in his back pocket. Some he marked with a pen from the desk. Most he put back.

Three weeks later. Brent was watching Saturday morning cartoons. “Where the hell is he?” he heard his father scream. Soon his father was dragging him by his shirt into the den. “Have you been in my baseball cards?” Brent considered lying, but his hesitating downward glance betrayed him. “Frak you,” his father hissed. Brent apologized. “A lot of good that does me!” his father bellowed. “Do you have any idea how much these are worth? More than you could ever make.” Brent apologized again. “Get out of my face.” Brent just stood there. “Get out!”

Twenty-five years later. Eating lunch at his desk at work, Brent stumbles onto an article about baseball cards. He is mildly amused: it turns out that they are essentially worthless.

Months later. Home from work, Brent comes in the garage door. Martha, his four year old, sits on the couch. She has been crying.

“Tell him what you did,” Brent’s wife Lisa says. “Tell him.”

“I broke your bowl,” Martha says. “I was playing water. I’m sorry, Daddy!”

“My bowl?” Brent says.

Lisa produces a traditional drum Brent brought home from Brazil. A man Brent baptized on his mission made it by hand. The wood is split in several places. “Martha was playing in the bathroom sink,” Lisa says. “I’ve told her a thousand times not to play in the sink. The drum was upside down and full of water when I got to her.”

Brent is angry. He is, generally speaking, not the ideal father. Sometimes he has a temper, and sometimes he says the wrong thing. Baseball cards. That is his first thought. He tells Martha that she broke something special to him. He tells her that he is disappointed in her. He sends her to her room. “I’m sorry, Daddy!” she cries. Again he thinks: baseball cards.

“Go to your room,” he says. “I will be up in a minute. We will talk about a punishment. I love you, Martha. You are a good girl. I will forgive you.”

* * *

More fiction. Parents must discipline their children. When they do so–when their children make mistakes that call for discipline–parents should not miss the chance to teach the Atonement. To teach children the simple idea that they can be forgiven. Any thoughts, personal experiences, whatever, on teaching the Atonement when disciplining children?


  1. I have two year old twin boys, and we just had this discussion, the wife and I.

    We were fighting the battle of bedtime, and many many others, and finding ourselves angry and losing our tempers to the point of tears and, I’m not afraid to admit, temptations to physically harm our children, on a daily basis. It was wrecking us emotionally and spiritually. One day, during such a pitched battle, I suddenly heard the voice of mission president I had who was meeting with my companions and I after we were caught with the car outside of our area. ‘I’m told I should be hard on you,’ he said, ‘but I am very aware that I am not only dealing with missionaries, but with future bishops and fathers.’ I knew then that we were doing this wrong, and my wife and I decided to fast and pray the next day for guidance.

    It lead us to reading D&C 121 carefully, and seeing the Atonement and the concept of mercy as a balancing between two positions: on one hand, there are commandments and reasons for them, even though those reasons are not always understandable and the commandments run against our natural desires; on the other hand, the relationship between the Godhead and ourselves is one of love, not an oppositional relationship.

    It lead us to think less about punishment and more about a witholding of blessings, which we try to do with a calm heart. I think the ‘sharpness’ of D&C 121 has more to do with focus and less to do with cutting or harm. We ask them for tokens of forgiveness. We try to avoid putting them in situations where disobedience is almost inevitable, and consider the context of such disobedience when it occurs.

    It’s not that simple of course. This is a hell of a lot of work, and the boys are still rascals, but it has changed the environment of our home dramatically.

  2. i had a sorta-similar moment with my three year old last night. she managed to get the “childproof” thing off of the front doorknob, unlock the door, and open the screen to step onto the porch, all while i was four or five feet away. we don’t live in the nicest area, we are on a busy intersection, and it was dark. not that they’re valid excuses, but a week of sickness and financial woes and lack of sleep and i snapped. i was harsh with her. she burst into tears, laid her head in my lap, and promised not to do it again. oh, my. i melted, pulled her into my lap, and we talked rationally about why she couldn’t ever do that again. i apologized for yelling at her and told her mommy had made a bad choice by raising her voice and that next time, i’d try better. she said, “it’s okay, mommy. you’re a good mommy and still my best mommy.” oh, my.

    a while ago, we attended a gospel doctrine class about this issue. i was saddened when so many people said that “spanking” was the way to go for even the most minimal offense. i spoke up and talked about appropriate and logical consequences for infractions and no one wanted to hear it. several people actually laughed and said i’d “learn” as my kids got older, one woman saying it at she patronizingly patted my knee. ick.

    when we lived in hawai’i, we had the opportunity to see the prophet speak live a number of times. i’ll never forget him counseling about spanking at the end of one of the meetings. i should try to dig it up…

  3. Ouch.

    The “things” we love are never as important as the feeling, emotions and character of the children we love… That doesn’t mean we don’t all lose it sometimes, but…ouch.

    As far as spanking- well, anytime I’ve done it, I have a terrible time with my prayers afterwards- which leads me to think and feel it isn’t any sort of solution.

    I wish I was wiser.

  4. SP,
    I love your idea about teaching kids about forgiveness. Of course, it’s sticky because I don’t think kids need to be “forgiven.” But still, there’s something there.

    Great story too.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    When my son was young he was a bit of hellion, and occasionally I would get frustrated and lose my temper and yell at him. At one point I sat him down and explained to him that losing my temper was my failing, and though I would try not to it would probably happen from time to time, but that he should understand that would never mean that I didn’t love him. I think that explanation/conversation was very helpful, and he never doubted my love for him. As he grew a little older we both mellowed; he stopped bouncing off of walls and I stopped losing my cool. It has been the better part of two decades since I have raised my voice with my children.

    I think any mouse is on to something; there is more room for rational discussion with our children than we sometimes imagine. At a certain age they have the capacity to understand the rational basis behind our wishes, and we should give them more than simply “because daddy said so.”

  6. Kevin, sometimes though, all we have is “Because Heavenly Father says so.” Isn’t that what Faith and Trust are for sometimes?

    My wife was telling me yesterday about how hurt she was because her father didn’t like on eof her friends and strongly discouraged there spending time together. My wife’s friend turned out to not be a very good friend or good person. My Father-in-Law may or may not have have predicted that, but his intuition did certainly know it.

  7. BTW, I am anti-spanking and pretty much anti-stuff nostalgia.

    The Question of my life is How do I keep my teenager (she’s 3 at this point)from hating me when she is a teenager and yet she still goes to church, is nice, isn’t having pre-marital sex, and isn’t smoking, drinking, or doing drugs?

    Give me a book that is guaranteed to solve that problem, and I’ll buy a copy for each room of my house.

  8. S.P. Bailey says:

    Tracy: Why ouch? (I think who/what do I love is a question Christians should repeatedly ask themselves. I wish I could say I was always proud of my answer to the question…)

    Ronan: Thanks! It is something of a paradox. Children don’t sin and need no forgiveness. But they need boundaries. And a beginning notion of the hope that the Atonement brought into the world. And parent-set examples of forgiving.

    Mouse and Kevin: I agree about reasoning with children. I hope it has a double effect: (1) addressing the immediate behavior problem, and (2) modeling a measured response to discouragement. (Incidentally, those moments when my child responds with temper that looks and sounds just like mine are almost unbearable.)

  9. Ouch because of the father’s reaction to the boy and the baseball cards. The cards are just things, of no eternal value, and the boys feelings are what should be valued. Not to say he shouldn’t be taught to respect property, but what was the lesson in “damning” him and yelling and belittlement? I’ll bet it wasn’t about forgiveness.

    That’s what I meant by ouch.

    Your original question of who/what/why do I love is a valid one, and one we should look at often. I too am not always proud of my answers to those questions. No offense intended.

  10. S.P. Bailey says:

    No offense taken! Just wanted to understand what you meant…

  11. “When it came to trying to decide which theories of child-rearing were highly beneficial and which were absolutely ruinous to the future of your child-—a subject of considerable discussion among some parents we knew—-we agreed on a simple notion: your children are either the center of your life or they’re not, and the rest is commentary.”

    from “Alice, Off the Page” by Calvin Trillin in the New Yorker. It’s a beautiful article, and I think of this passage from time to time.

  12. Do Children really not “sin”? or is it that they are not accountable for their sins? My Daughter seems to strongly need my approval and my foregiveness… She’s 3.