Byrne, one of the Troublemint Twins, likes to be first – at EVERYTHING. Now, a healthy sense of competition is just fine with me. I like to encourage that. However, his situation was rapidly deteriorating from outright rudeness to downright danger.
First it was racing his buddy to see who would be first in line after I called out “Line ‘em up at recess.” Then it was pushing and shoving and arguing over who was ahead of whom in line. Then it was knock ‘em out of the way to get a paper towel in the boys’ room so he could be first to line up for lunch. Mixed in all this was the ever-looming race to the finished work basket in the room if he saw anyone else headed toward it. Finally he rushed to the toilet yesterday (“I was walking fast, which was technically running…”) and fell straight onto it. Not into it, mind you. He didn’t get wet. Too bad. The bruised shin will probably heal faster than a bit of wet embarrassment would have. And gratefully he didn’t crack open his head on the porcelain!
His official position in the class has been “Mr. Polite” for some time. That means he is not the line leader, rather the one who lets all others go first. This also means he’s last in the bathroom. He keeps asking, “How long to I hafta be ‘Mr. Polite?’” What he doesn’t get is that the more he asks, the longer he stays. It means he’s not getting it yet.
His buddy, the other Troublemint Twin, was Mr. Polite first this year. It took him about a week to be broken in. Slowly but surely he got it. We called him Mr. Polite at every opportunity and he started to act the part. He began to believe it of himself. He would step aside and let others pass in front of him. He took pride in himself for doing it, too. He does it still. Being polite is permanent, although being Mr. Polite is not a permanent position.
I was hoping for the same learning curve from Byrne, but so far it isn’t happening. There is no lack of support from the parents. Byrne’s dad doesn’t appreciate him putting his hands on other children rudely. But Byrne gets a thought in his head and bends himself to it, and no one can stop him.
Today Byrne impulsively reached out for a trading card the students were looking at during snack time, bumped Sean’s cup, knocked it into his face, and sent orange juice flying. Sean had juice all over his clothes and in his eyes. Must have stung! When I asked Byrne why he reached and grabbed in like that he said he was afraid he would miss his turn.
It was time to get the crew outside for recess, so we went on out. I had a special task for Byrne. “See that tree over there… the big oak? Go push it until I tell you to stop.” Byrne commenced to pushing that big tree for five minutes or so. He shoved. He shoulder butted. He ran at it and rammed it. He gave it every last bit a seven-year-old could. That tree never once shuddered, swayed, or winced under Byrne’s mighty work. Didn’t even know the kid was there.
When I asked Byrne how things went he admitted he didn’t accomplish much. “But,” he allowed, “if I had an axe I could chop it down. Then I could move that tree.”
“Sure. But then the tree would be dead. Are you admitting to me that the only way you can shove that tree out of your way is if you kill it?”
“Well, yes ma'am.”
“So tell me which commandment is involved when you push or shove your way around through people?”
Byrne knew that one easily enough. He’d been repeating it enough lately. He added another. “The First and the Fifth. ‘You shall have no other gods’ and ‘You shall not murder.’”
Then he got it… “Oh… so if the only way I can move the tree is to kill it, that’s like the only way I can push people around is to kill them. Even if I hurt someone accidentally, it’s my fault if I’m thinking of me first.”
Well if the porcelain barking your shins doesn’t wake you up, maybe the bark on your skin will.
Byrne has shown an aptitude for studious work this year, though he still has his old bag of tricks. I know his routine. He comes to me with a question before he even attempts the answer himself. I point him straight back to his desk before he can even get the question out. Without fail brief minutes later I hear him groan and say, “Ohhh… of course!” I like for him to at least try before he comes to me. He still wants to try to work me for an easy answer. If I make him work, he shows he is capable, he has learned more, and he gains confidence. He has the mind and ability to be a first-rate student. His father knows it, too. Byrne likes good grades, so he works hard to get them.
What Byrne is also becoming is secure in knowing that he is forgiven. He has been confessing that he believes this since the first day he began at our school. Now he is certain of it. Why? Because Jesus says so. Any sin talk will find Byrne among the first, if not the first to say, “But Jesus died for that. He took all our sins on the cross.” That kind of being first is always encouraged. Always push the Gospel, just as Christ always pushes it so eagerly on us.