Uncle Mark's Troublesome Toy Car

For those of you who have set a boundary with a loved one and need a way to communicate about it to your young children, feel free to use the story below which I wrote for our little ones. Due to the tragic passing of my brother after his battle with addiction, we no longer need it; still, I want to share it with anyone who may.

Uncle Mark’s Troublesome Toy Car:
When a Loved One Is Absent Due to Addiction or Untreated Mental Illness
By Jessica S. Marquis

I have an uncle named Mark.
He has a toy car.

I don’t see Uncle Mark very often.
That’s because his toy car is troublesome.

Mommy says he got the car when he was younger.
It wasn’t so troublesome then.

He liked to play with the car,
But he always left it at home.

Uncle Mark started playing with the car more and more.
He spent lots of time with it.

He spent less and less time with people and things he cared about.

Now, he brings the car with him everywhere he goes.

Sometimes, the toy car causes Uncle Mark to make bad choices,
Like when it rolled into the street and he tried to chase it.

Other times, the toy car makes Uncle Mark loud and mad,
Like when it got stuck under the sofa and he couldn’t reach it.

And other times, the toy car makes Uncle Mark not show up for things,
Like when he was too busy playing with it, and he missed my talent show.

I am sad when Uncle Mark makes bad choices or doesn’t show up.
I get scared when Uncle Mark is loud and mad.

One day, Mommy told Uncle Mark he could not visit us anymore if he brought his car.
He was unhappy.

So was I.

So was Mommy.

She gave me hugs and told me Uncle Mark doesn’t want to be this way,
But he has chosen to keep playing with the toy car, which hurts himself and others.

Mommy wants me to be happy.
It is her job to keep loud and mad people away from me.

I miss Uncle Mark,
And I can still love him a lot…

…even though I don’t see him because of his troublesome toy car.

Parent discussion points:
·      Use this story to normalize your child’s experience of having an absent loved one due to poor choices or safety concerns. The toy car can be a direct metaphor for drugs, alcohol, gambling, and other addictions. It can also represent an untreated mental illness, where the individual is choosing not to engage in counseling, take medication, etc.
·      Discuss feelings like sadness and fear that can result from the individual’s choices. Did the child witness hurtful behavior? What was that like? If the child hasn’t met this person, be very simple in your explanation of your own feelings.
·      Emphasize at the end that is still possible to love the individual, even if you have had to set a boundary with that person. You can end the story by inviting the child to take an action with you, such as writing a letter that will not be sent to the individual, talking about nice memories and qualities of him/her, or praying for him/her.
·      Here is an example of a way to discuss this story: “Like Uncle Mark, your aunt has something that makes her act in a way that is not always nice. It is an illness, and she has decided not to take medicine that would make her feel better and be safe. When she isn’t feeling well, she says things that hurt people’s feelings, including mine. Because I love you, I want her to make better choices in order to be around you. I still love your aunt very much, and I hope she decides to take her medicine so we can spend time with her. Would you like to pray with me that she will?”

Jessica S. Marquis holds an MA in Counseling with a specialization in Couple and Family Studies from Oakland University. In addition to her professional experience, she has experienced the consequences of a loved one's addiction within her own family. She is the author of Raising Unicorns: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Starting and Running a Successful - and Magical! - Unicorn Farm (Adams Media). 


Snowflake Vigil: A How-To for Grief and Young Ones

I mentioned in an earlier post that I may do a "snowflake vigil" with my kiddos, all under age 4, regarding the tragic mass shooting at Pulse, a gay club in Orlando. It's critical to start an ongoing conversation with them even now about loving others, respecting all, and advocacy. If we claim to love Jesus, whose heart was all about justice, we need to also claim verses like this one: 

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed.
Proverbs 31:8 (NLT)

I talked with my twin 18-month-old sons first, holding a piece of pink paper (it was the only color I could find) and folding it into quadrants. I talked about how good love feels, and that love helps others. I said that someone had made a bad decision that had hurt a lot of people. Each person is made by God and important to Him, so they are important to us, too. 

If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.
1 John 4:20 (NASB)

As I talked, I cut the paper. One of my boys even ripped a piece for me. I then opened it to show them the snowflake we had made, emphasizing again that each person is unique, and Mommy was sad today because these unique people were hurt by someone who was scared and did not show love toward others. "We won't let hate or fear in this house, okay?" They were squirming, so we said a prayer together for the families, and that God will help us to love and help others.

I did a snowflake with my almost-4-year-old daughter on her own, because I knew she'd want to take over the process. We talked about how it hurts when others don't like us or are mean. I repeated that everyone is created by God and loved by Him, and I told her some of the names of the people who "got hurt" by the person who made a bad decision. When I finished talking and praying with her, she wanted to make her own snowflake. We hung up all three snowflakes in our living room so we can point to them and talk about how everyone matters.

It was all very quick, but it established that we are a family who talks about things and how we can take action. It also gave me a chance to grieve these lives lost - and to let my kids see me care, because they need to know what that looks like.


Presumptive Pain-Sharing

Lesson I've witnessed over and over: It may seem the same to you, but don't assume you know what the other person is feeling. Doing so is like a slap to the face.

Here is the Hierarchy of Face Slaps that tend to commence once someone has made that assumption:
1. They say, "I know what you're feeling."
2. They hijack the conversation to share their story.
3. Their story is nothing like yours.
4. Their story is not nearly as weighty as yours.
5. They try to justify it.
6. You're given the responsibility of ending the conversation they forced upon you.

Pay it forward: Don't claim another's pain as yours. Just listen.


Forgotten Storylines: How Sitcoms Taught Me that God Has a Grand Narrative

In my mind, there are two types of comedy shows: The kind that build a cohesive storyline throughout the episodes, and the kind where each episode is its own story. I'm sure they have industry terms, but I don't want to stop my brain dump to research them. Let's just call the former Arrested Development and the latter The Simpsons.

If you watch an episode of Arrested Development and then jump ahead a few episodes, you may be confused by why the lawyer is a different guy, or find yourself asking what happened to Marta or Gob's puppet Franklin or Charlize Theron and her fantastic fashions. However, you can go for years without watching an episode of The Simpsons and have no glitches upon reentry. I know - I've tried it.

I say all this to explain that I default to a perspective on my spiritual growth that is more The Simpsons than Arrested Development. My Teacher leads me into a new truth, and I marvel at it and may even apply it, then file it away for posterity. A while later - perhaps even a short while later - I'm given a chance to apply it in a new way, and I've completely forgotten the truth.

My husband often remarks at my repeated revelations: "Didn't you learn this before? I remember you telling me about this already." And each time, I look at him blankly for a bit, then start to recall the episode of my life to which he's referring.

It only makes sense that the Designer of the circulatory system and photosynthesis and outer space would also have a design for our individualized spiritual curriculum, especially if we're attentive students. So why do I keep going back to square one when faced with a new challenge?

The most recent example of this occurred a few days ago, when I was reflecting on my current season of life. It's no secret that I have three young children, and the common thinking seems to be a mom in my situation is exempted from service outside the home. This doesn't jive with me; I have too little gifting in domestic living to spend all my energy there. But I had begun to resign myself to the idea that common thinking must be God's thinking.

And then I stumbled across my birth story of the twins, which I wrote in 2015. Yes, one year ago. In it, I talked about how God isn't interested in simply doing things the safe, established way. He likes risks and leaping out of the boxes we try to put Him in.


As I pulled this truth rock out from where it had lodged itself between my eyes, I was saturated with excitement at the prospect that He had something adventurous (and probably unsafe) in store for my family. I relished the concept of taking action that matters - that also includes my kiddos.

I was also admittedly embarrassed that I needed a refresher course so soon after the initial lesson. But, hey, I'm sure I'll need it again, because my short-term memory loss is impeccable. And I'm so grateful I serve and am loved by a God who has grace with this glaring imperfection.


Snowflake Vigil

Sadness isn't an easy feeling for us. Anger is easy because it's in motion. It helps us feel like we're doing something. But sadness has a purpose - if nothing else, 'Inside Out' should have taught us that.

Yes, we need to be angry about what happened yesterday in Orlando. I'm pissed like a bee-stung mama bear that anyone would so brutally harm my fellow beloved creations of God, that my LGBTQ brothers & sisters yet again feel victimized.

But, my friends, we still need to mourn! We must not rush past this moment to reflect on each of these unique lives lost or compromised in this tragedy.

In less than a month, we have been outraged by restrooms, a gorilla/parenting controversy, a rapist, and now this mass shooting. And all this anger eventually leads to outrage fatigue - AKA apathy & inaction. We owe it to our fellow humans today to mourn, to grieve each of their lives, to not bypass our sadness, running straight to anger and - as we flawed creatures often do - careen into hatred (no matter how we righteously justify it). Anger & action can then follow, but our hearts need to feel the weight of the loss first to guide our next steps.

Today, I will be teaching my kids to hold space for these lives, to sit with the sadness as I would want others to do for us. They're too young for candles, so maybe we'll make snowflakes and talk about loving one another. Please take time to grieve with us today.