I’ll never win Mother of the Year. That’s a given. But I was still in the running for Greatest Aunt Ever. Until a couple weeks ago.
“Auntie Becky, my fingers hurt,” my niece complained. She and her younger sister were spending the day at our house. At ages 11 and 8, they are the admired older cousins, two of my girls’ favorite playmates. And I was in charge of them all.
“Your fingers hurt? What happened?” I asked.
“Well, we were making a salad in the sandbox.”
Hmmm. . . . My daughter’s familiar “salad” game—stirring leaves and sticks in a bowl—and a garden patch blooming with fresh produce just five yards from the sandbox. My brain assembled the puzzle in a flash.
“Were you picking vegetables from the garden?” I pried gently, a tinge of panic welling in my throat.
“Did you pick the jalapenos?”
“What did you do with them, sweetheart?” As if I didn’t already know.
“I put them in our salad!”
Heaven help me. Fiery hot peppers plucked ripe from the stem, butchered with a Play-Doh utensil, mixed by tender fingers with hose water and sand, and served up on plastic toy platters for “lunch.” Yum. It was a perfect recipe for play date disaster.
Have you ever touched the inner flesh of a jalapeno? Yeesh! Those searing juices seeped mercilessly into my niece’s skin, slowly setting her fingertips on fire. First-aid attempts did nothing to relieve the burn. Even after she’d washed her hands repeatedly and soaked them in a bowl of aloe gel, the poor girl spent half the night tossing and turning in pain.
I ran a gamut of reactions to this little incident:
Surprise—Really? The kids didn’t know they weren’t supposed to pick vegetables from the garden? (Hellooo, Auntie. Obviously you don’t remember being 11.)
Admiration—Pretty creative, actually. I might’ve applauded their imagination if only those veggies weren’t intended for my husband’s homemade salsa.
Gratitude—Thank God she didn’t touch her eyeballs!
Guilt—Oh, the guilt! How could this happen on my watch? I was supervising. I was! The baby snoozed securely in her crib, and the older kids were safe in the fenced yard, within earshot of my open windows. So I stepped inside just long enough to whip up a batch of brownies—for them! I am the Greatest Aunt Ever!
So kids will be kids, and aunties will be sometimes oblivious. I made my peace with that. But then another thought crept in and gnawed at my heart. What are my jalapenos? What do I grasp that appears fun and harmless in the moment, but hurts me after a while?
- A fascinating new novel—which I read in place of my Bible.
- A friend’s Facebook page—which becomes a distant substitute for picking up the phone.
- That double scoop of ice cream after dinner last night, and the night before, and the night before that— until my stomach feels sluggish and my skinny jeans shrink. (What? Is it just me?)
Tricky, those jalapenos. Smooth and shiny on the surface, but danger smolders under the skin. If I handle them carelessly, innocent amusements can burn me.
And where is God, my overseer, my protector? Unlike Auntie Becky in the case of the inferno salad, God is not negligent. He is not unaware of the details. He sees it all, and he allows me to make mistakes. He lets me snatch peppers and feel the consequences. That’s the messy, mind-boggling concept of free will, central to our relationship with God. He loves us, so he lets us choose—but not without guidance.
“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way. Walk in it,’” (Isaiah 30:21).
What if we listened more often to that little voice in our head? The one that says, Should I be doing this? How will I feel tomorrow? Is it becoming a bad habit? Would Jesus touch this thing?
Thankfully, poor choices aren’t the only trait that runs in my family. So does grace. My sister—the victim’s mother—has not booted me from her Facebook friend list, so I guess we’re okay. She says the pepper episode taught my niece a lesson. God knows it taught me one, too.
What are your jalapenos? Will you be brave and share in the comments below? If you’re reading this post via e-mail, click here to swing over to my blog site. We can compare stories of play dates gone wrong!