My kids love slides. They generally enjoy sliding down, but they mostly get a kick out of scrambling up. If other kids are waiting to go down, I send mine around to use the stairs. But if my kids’ rambunctiousness is not impeding another child’s sliding pleasure, I see nothing wrong with letting them bound up, pivot, slide down–head first, feet first, on their tummies, on their backs, sideways–and clamber right back up. I’m not alone in this, but I’m definitely in the minority. And I’ve been subject to my share of judgemental stares as other parents direct their children to the variety of “appropriate” access points. Many times, Teddy and another child have dashed to parallel slides, Teddy pounding up the shiny metal (or brightly painted plastic) to a mere nonchalant comment from me — whoa, bud, that was loud — and the other child following suit only to hear a reprimand from their parent — Johnny, we don’t climb up the slide; we go around. Typically, the other child is compliant, and I just have to deal with the judgement from the other parents.
But on one occasion this spring, the other child was not so agreeable. She really wanted to climb up the slide just like Teddy was doing–no matter that her nanny kept threatening her with a time out. And she was a precocious little girl. The first time, she followed Teddy, it was all innocent. Teddy hoisted himself up, and she thought that looked quite fun, so she climbed up, too. But her nanny saw. “Caroline, we go around.” Looking wistfully at Teddy preparing to climb up again, she dutifully hopped off the end and walked around. The second time, it’s possible she’d forgotten the warning. Nanny reminded her, adding the threat of the time out. The third time, she clearly looked to see if her nanny was watching before clambering up. Nanny spied the transgression and called her out. “Caroline, are you not listening? Go around. This is your last warning.”
And I’m watching this play out, wondering what I should do. No one was being blocked going down the slide by the kids’ clambering up. Teddy was doing no harm continuing his hoarding of the slide. But clearly, this little girl was going to get into trouble if she continued doing so. And as evidenced by her initial obedience, without Teddy, she would likely have no problem honoring her nanny’s rule.
In that moment, Philippians 2:4 came to mind. It says we should look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others. In this case, the honorable thing to do was have Teddy go around so the girl wouldn’t be tempted to break her nanny’s rule. I try to take advantage of opportunities to point my kids to Jesus, but in this instance, I did not look forward to bringing Teddy in on my plan. I knew it would not be met with enthusiasm. Nevertheless, I got down to Teddy’s eye level and explained the situation. “Bud, I know you like climbing up the slide. I know it’s way more fun than going around. But this little girl is going to have a time out if she keeps climbing up and she’s doing it because she’s watching you. I don’t have a problem with you climbing up, but I also think we don’t want this girl to get in trouble. So how about for now, you go around, so that little girl isn’t tempted to climb up anymore.” Teddy was most definitely not happy about this plan. If he could shoot fire from his eyes, I’d have been incinerated. But he complied. And for the next 10 minutes, both children took the long way to the top of the slide. And then the little girl left with her nanny, and Teddy, glancing at me for approval, immediately shot back up the slide.
So many parents are truly gifted in applying biblical principles to their discipline strategies, speaking verses over their children as they redirect their energies. I’ve never been adept at this. I never seem to recall the right verse at the right time. But for whatever reason, the Holy Spirit prompted me this time. In all likelihood, neither child remembers it (and it’s not like a five-minute timeout would’ve been so traumatizing). But maybe this was as much for my benefit as it was for my son’s. This was one in hopefully many instances where I’ll be able to help him love his neighbor. And it was a strong reminder that the Holy Spirit wants to be at the center of every aspect of our lives, even at the playground.