Let’s get this straight. I love food. The more processed, the better. I have squealed with delight upon opening a box of Cookie Crisp as a Christmas gift. I am a sucker for any “cheese” product that must, for legal reasons, be spelled with a “z” at the end. And, this being the Girl Scout Cookie season, I can remember with great fondness the evening I polished off two sleeves of Do-Si-Do’s all by myself.
Some consider it gluttony.
I consider it a talent.
As a confession, I have frequently broken the 10th commandment. I covet my neighbor’s food. Especially if the person seated next to me has ordered a meal that looks far more appealing than the one I have in front of me. I would feel worse about this, but it’s only the 10th commandment, right? Not the first. Though some could argue that my Kraft Mac n Cheese shrine comes dangerously close to “putting another God before” the big guy, I think I’ve discovered a loophole in the eternal damnation clause by simply thanking God for sending the genius food chemist to Earth to create that orange cheese powder that brings happiness to so many.
Food coveting even applies to food I have given away. Let’s say I just made a killer batch of chicken tortilla casserole that I plan to eat for the next week, and then I find out a neighbor is laid up after a difficult surgery. Sure, I’ll do the right thing and deliver a meal. As a recipient of such generosity, I know what a Godsend a hot meal can be when you’re overwhelmed with the other duties of life. At the same time, there is a part of me that would like to include a note with the dish that reads,
“Enjoy the meal I have lovingly prepared for you. Know that with each delicious bite you take, a tiny piece of my soul dies. Get well soon. Love, Scott”
I can be a downright terrible human being.
That’s why I was so surprised at dinner last night when my daughter Audrey blurted out,
“Daddy is nicer than mommy.”
This is coming from a girl who has seen her father hand out more time outs per minute than a couple of whistle-happy coaches during the closing drive of a tight NFL football game.
Upon further review, we figured out why Audrey said such a thing. Yesterday, while in a rush, Gabby and I were devouring a couple of protein bars for breakfast before heading out of the house with the kids. It was 10:00am. We had just returned from the gym after a big workout, and were famished since we’d skipped breakfast. Then Audrey asked,
“Daddy. Can I have a bite of that?”
* Yes. I can resist this face. Even when it's covered in a generous application of shimmering Princess lip balm.
I looked down at my Kashi bar. Soy nuggets and selfishness coated in waxy chocolate. One-hundred-eighty calories my body was craving. Reluctantly, I broke off a crumb that would be “much too small for the other Whos’ mouses” and handed it to her.
You would have thought I’d given her a pillowcase full of pink cotton candy.
“Thanks daddy!” she beamed.
She returned fifteen seconds later, pleading for another morsel. I flicked off another crumb, and she was once again satisfied. Then she went to beg a bite from her mother. The woman who frequently brings home special treats from Book Club just for the kids. The one who scans the internet looking for wonderful events for the kids to attend. The mother who would give both her kidneys to my children if only it would cure their simple head cold. The mom whose neck has caught more puke than a frat house toilet.
“Sorry, honey. You already ate your breakfast, but mommy hasn’t had hers yet. This is my breakfast.”
Audrey, digging deep for her best counter-attack, comes back with “But daddy gave me some of his!”
“Well, your daddy is nicer than me.”
And there it is. Burned into her brain forever.
Since that time, Audrey has parroted the “Daddy is nicer than mommy” equation numerous times. Each time, I feel more guilt than the last. It eats at me like the Thump-Thump-Thumping of the Tell-Tale Heart.
Because I keep replaying all of the times in my mind when, quite close to dinnertime, I would wait for that little girl to go around the corner so I could quietly open the pantry and eat some of her Halloween treats without her hearing.
“Daddy? Why do you smell like candy?”
“I don’t know honey. I smell like candy? Um… er… That’s strange.”
Or when I’d swipe a French fry while she was gazing out the window, while Gabby looked on, fry-free, with disapproval.
So this morning, when she verbally proclaimed my superiority to mommy, I had to set the record straight. I can’t walk around with that kinda’ thing weighing on my conscience.
“Audrey. Daddy really isn’t nicer than mommy. In fact, it’s probably the other way around.”
She looked at me like I was trying to explain the theory of relativity. Stunned silence.
“It’s like this, honey. Mommy is the one who holds you when you’re sick. She thinks of fun treats to give you when you and your brother are behaving well. She takes you to the library to pick out your favorite books. And daddy… sometimes daddy eats your cookies, and swipes an apple slice off your plate when he’s really hungry. And that’s not so nice, is it?”
I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would she cry as the world as she knew it came crumbling down? Would she hold on to this memory and save it for a therapy session twenty years into the future? Maybe she would stomp off, leaving behind only the stench of betrayal.
I looked down at her. Her clear brown eyes gazing up at me. Her face. Expressionless.
I prepared to answer one of life’s big philosophical questions of trust.
“Where are my clickety-clackety’s?”
* Behold: One of Audrey/Imelda's countless pair of clickety-clackety's
Here I am, confessing my transgressions to a three-year-old, and her main concern is the location of her loud plastic high heels. Did she even hear me?
Just as I am about to go into greater detail, I realize it. Of course she heard me! Every word! And that’s the beauty of a child. The ones that Jesus said have the keys to the Kingdom.
We often think that children are Jesus’ favorites because of their innocence. Their curiosity. Their faith.
But we can’t forget their God-like forgiveness. Quick to forget. The nimble minds that render some of our greatest failings to a size no larger than nonsense. Mere toys compared to the reality of God’s grace. It’s a gift, to be sure. One that I should give far more often. For forgiveness is a mission and ministry all its own.
As I hear my daughter click-clacking through the house, I think maybe I’ll finish right where I started. Selfishly. Forgiving myself.
‘Cause we all gotta’ start somewhere.