The government shutdown drags on. Watching Congress’ continued “incredible ineptitude,” as the United Methodist Women have called it, with increasing frustration, incredulity, and a sense of powerlessness, I now find myself feeling towards our elected officials the way a preschool teacher feels toward three-year olds who won’t share their toys.
I know. I’ve taught preschoolers. Also, I’m a mom—with two boys who, while they aren’t preschoolers anymore, still don’t always play nicely together.
Maybe it’s because I’m a mom—or maybe it’s because I was a religious educator for five years and led week-long summer camp programs for kids in a yurt… Whatever the reason, all I want to do right now is sit members of Congress down and read them a story. You know, a picture book. One with really simple words, colorful drawings, and talking animals.
I can see it now: “Everybody, put your toys down and come sit on the floor, criss-cross applesauce. Yes, together in a circle. That’s right.”
Because I don’t have permission from the author of any children’s book to recite a published work here (Mercer Mayer’s “I Was So Mad” comes to mind), let’s consider a story written by my youngest son when he was seven years old. The story came home from school in late October a few years ago, carefully handwritten on the lined bottom-half of the page, and illustrated with colored pencil on the top half. It was a Halloween story:
One night in a cave there were three enemies named Jack, Shady, and Fly. Jack is on the floor because he’s a pumpkin. Fly stays at the top because he is a bat. Shady is everywhere. They think they are enemies because they can’t get to each other. When the three enemies woke up they were all friends.
I appreciate the insight into strained relationships that my seven-year old displays by explaining that the characters perceive themselves to be enemies simply because they “can’t get to each other.” How much of our fear and misunderstanding of others is based on very basic not knowing and a lack of relationship? (The answer is a lot!)
I do have some questions about the story, though. For example, if Shady is everywhere, why can’t he (or she) reach Jack or Fly? This seems a great mystery.
Another mystery: how is it that Jack, Shady, and Fly go to sleep as enemies, but wake up as friends? I asked the author about that. He explained, “When they went to sleep, they were each dreaming about being friends with each other—so when they woke up, they were friends.”
Did you catch that, boys and girls of Congress? In order to wake up in the morning as friends, you first have to dream—to imagine—that you can be friends. You have to want it.
Congress, I don’t care whether you’re all friends with each other. But I do care whether you can work together well enough to keep our government functioning.
If you can’t agree on who gets to play with the toys, don’t hide all the toys in a bucket so no one else can play with them. Sit down, take a deep breath, listen to a story. Imagine how things might be different. Dream. Sleep on it if you need to.
And then, get up in the morning and end the government shutdown. Take responsibility for your actions, and your inaction. You aren’t preschoolers and we’re not talking about toys—you are Americans who were elected to work for the people of the United States, and your stubborn antics are harming real American families, right now. Stop it.