It was our weekly Sabbath.
Thida was already cooking when I slipped out the door for an early morning bike ride; and Stephen slept a bit longer than 5:30am. Because we Sabbath differently.
When I got back just after seven, I sat with a few of the moms and kids, just chatting a few minutes. With news of an arrest last night and the community gathering thousands of baht to get him out of prison; the reality that this is only the beginning of more arrests and more pushes and pulls to this little neighborhood…I was ready to call it a Sabbath on the other side of the doorway and let Thida do her thing.
Then we heard shouting in the front and went to see. It was one of our little friends who is six years old, with one of the hardest lives and living situations, now crying and facing his aunt–a teenager with a baby of her own now–and she’s wielding a stick. Not a normal stick, mind you: many of the parents use small sticks in their discipline, and whether I fully agree with it or not, I can see it is cultural. I can see it as different strokes for different folks.
But this, this is a very thick wooden broom handle.
I try to calmly intervene; ask what has happened. He’s naughty, she says. He took something from another boy.
I’ll interject here to just say I ache for this little guy. At six he has faced more hardship and horrors than he should ever experience, and he’s still the sweetest. He comes bearing the biggest smiles every morning, politely says thank you, and really, if he knows he shouldn’t, he doesn’t. He just doesn’t always know yet.
Just Thursday he bit another boy on the cheek. It was shockingly aggressive; left a large mark and just felt surprisingly vicious. And since he was at our housing playing, I took him outside to handle it.
When I asked what happened, he matter-of-factly explained that the boy had taken his train.
He was confused where the problem was: a train taken out of his hand and a bite on the cheek seemed fair enough.
I explained to him that at our house, that’s not how we respond when we are angry. It’s ok to be angry, but we use our words here to say we are angry. We can to ask someone not to do something, or even ask an adult for help. We don’t hit, fight, or bite here.
He nodded and apologized.
I love this kid to pieces. His heart is beautiful. And his innocence is beautiful, despite coming out of all the stories you don’t want to hear: living with his grandparents through a split; his adolescent aunts caring for him in the early years of his life while his parents were in prison for some drug involvement; his aunt leaving him to move to Bangkok as a teenager; his other aunt pregnant as an unwed teenager; his parents returning when he’s three and doesn’t know them; his dad having TB and the newly-reunited family being moved into isolation hours away; his grandfathers second wife leaving and then returning; with endless drunkenness and rage and beatings in the middle. His mother just left the family three weeks ago, only two weeks after we finally arranged to get him into school and started feeding him breakfast five days a week.
And this kid, guys: he just keeps smiling. He’s so incredibly resilient. He shows up every morning, excited for breakfast and throwing thankfulness all over the room; asking, again, if we are playing at 4 o’clock.
As I watch her threaten him with the oversized stick, I’m skeptical he’s really that naughty.
But like countless other times in this community, sometimes it’s hard to know what to do. If I was in the parent | guardian position, I wouldn’t want to be told how to parent my child. I wouldn’t want to be told—particularly by a white lady that doesn’t even have children!—how I should handle this.
Sometimes it’s enough to just having someone else present and aware. Diffusing the situation for even just a split second—it allows for reconsideration. It gives a moment for them to ask themselves if they should continue; to consider if the punishment fits the crime.
And from past experience, usually a moment’s consideration or a few onlookers is enough to calm things to words.
Of course that wasn’t the case here. As I turned back toward the house I heard the crack of the stick on something.
Replay #1 as I try to sort that out, wishing I hadn’t turned around; wishing I knew what I should have done; wishing I knew if she actually hit him then or hit the ground in threat.
I turned back around in a hurry. And from there, here’s what I think happened, amidst the chaos in another language: I think I told her no, not here. Here, at our house, it is not okay to hit him. She can choose what she does at her house, but not here. We do not hit here at our house.
She said something about him not moving, and I shrugged. I said I didn’t care; she would not be hitting him here.
Let’s just say it was loud enough that others around heard, and they now know our stance on hitting kids with big sticks.
I knew I had to walk away at that point; I was shaking horribly and tried to pull myself together over a glass of water. Thida apologized in the kitchen, and I tried to mumble something about how we don’t do that in America/I don’t experience these things in America and I’m not sure what to do. She could tell I was losing it, and so could I.
I stumbled into our bedroom and woke Stephen up through tears and trying to explain I didn’t know what to do. I can’t go out there now, because I’m crying. You can’t cry in Burmese communities, not visibly. And yet I can’t let him get hit. I didn’t know what to do.
Stephen kindly stumbles out of bed and spends the next hour, with the help of two other kind friends in the community, taking the stick away, calming everyone down, and checking on this little guy.
He’s bawling as I bandage up a couple cuts, evaluate some welps. He gulps down a cup of chocolate milk as we tell him he’s going to be alright.
I tell him again how we love Jesus and we don’t hit here. I tell him we love him, and that we use our words when we’re angry, not fighting, not biting, and not hitting: just like I said the other day. I explain we need to be nice, to obey, and to be a good kid, but that that isn’t okay. Stephen tells him if he’s ever scared to run, RUN, as fast as he can to our house.
I just keep replaying it over and over again. What I said to her; what I said to him. What I saw and what I did. What I should have done or shouldn’t have.
How I got here in the first place.
I wonder if I actually said what I said. I wonder that often anyway, but especially when I’m frustrated or scared or stressed. Did I even make sense? Was it all laughable? Or was it just downright not what I meant to say?
Was it true? Was it kind?
How do I know if it honored the Lord if I’m not even positive I said it?
How do you love someone in another language? How do you love across cultures? How do you not just mess up one thing after another?
It’s a shame the replays don’t answer questions.
He came back the next day for breakfast.
Same beautiful smile. Same hungry belly.
He ate two platefuls and then asked for a new Band-Aid on his way out the door. I bandaged up his hand again and asked if he was okay.
Are you alright? Yep!
Are you full? Yep!
Are you happy? Yep!
Are you coming to play today at 4? Yep!
He told me thank you. I told him he was a good kid, and he tumbled out the door. And then he tumbled back in a few minutes later because he forgot his rice tin for lunch.
And then tumbled back out, while I tumble through another day and another replay.