All hands on deck

By Jason Holcombe

Magan and Noah conducted a deck-over last fall, pressure washing and painting our back deck. It looked beautiful, but lost its luster not long after the regular pitter-patter or, as is typically the case, clod hopping, by the revolving door of storytelling and tattle-telling at our French doors.

As a social experiment, I sat beside the back deck to pen this very column about said subject, and the kids have been up to the deck 10 times. Make that 11. Jesse had breaking news he had to share: two of our chickens ate from his hand for the first time. Now 12. He came back in to give me instructions on how to get the chickens to eat from my hands. I’ll take his word for it.

On a good day, most of the visits melt Magan’s heart. Eli will randomly run up to say, “I love you, Mommy,” as he did just a few minutes ago. Or, Simon will pop up to the window with our kitten (like he did 20 minutes ago) and speak for it oddly in a Count Dracula voice?

Most days aren’t like today, though, with the pounding of the play shoes or bare feet on the deck sounding more like the beats of Edgar Allen Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart.

In a worst-case scenario, the trips unintentionally wake Lydia or other little ones from their naps.

He once came bursting in to tell Magan that AnnaMarie had spilled her popsicle on the driveway as though it were someone else’s blood.

Magan finally had to resort to locking the door to the deck, but, ever resourceful as they are, the kids just found their way into the front yard and entered through the garage.

For the last several weeks, I’ve been conducting another social experiment that will hopefully extend the life of our deck and Magan’s sanity.

Any time a child comes to tattle, I’ll ask, “Are you hurt? Is someone else hurt? Is someone about to hurt themselves or someone else?”

If the answer is “No,” then I tell them to go figure it out amongst themselves.

Jesse came running up to me the other day, and, by utilizing a well-honed dad stare, I compelled him to recite the questions, answer them, and turn around. I felt like The Mentalist.

Magan and I aren’t trying to discourage the kids from communicating concerns. What we’re hoping to do is to teach them to recognize what is and what isn’t worth reporting, and to also find ways to resolve issues among themselves.

Jesus taught a similar lesson in the Book of Matthew that begins by saying that “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother” (Matthew 18:15-20).

The verses continue, giving specific examples and instructions about conflict resolution that ultimately teaches us that tattling actually points to the tattler’s own shortcomings rather than any misbehaver’s misconduct.

Our deck will receive some scheduled maintenance in the way of more paint in a few weeks to keep it ready to welcome travelers from far off lands like the creek, the driveway or the trampoline. Hopefully, their tales will be of fantastic adventures with chickens and cats, and not of Eli spilling Jesse’s bubbles (Trip 4 from this morning). Maybe we should consider a screened-in porch instead.