When my son was 4, his best friend punched him in the face and stole his string cheese. A couple minutes later, they were playing together as if nothing happened. I remember looking at my auburn-headed little boy laughing with this jerk and wondering how the hell he was able to tolerate the kid.
It’s not that his friend was particularly violent or anything. In fact, I think this was the closest thing they’d ever had to a fight up to that point. But the fact was, the kid punched his best friend in the face and stole his string cheese. If someone did that to me, I’d need a lawsuit and a restraining order to get over it. I can say, without hesitation, that we wouldn’t be playing Spiderman 10 minutes later.
But that’s the thing with my kids: They are really good at forgiveness. Right now, Tristan is 9 years old, and I don’t think he has ever held a grudge — at least not that I’ve noticed. I have three children. Tristan’s two younger sisters, ages 6 and 2, they don’t hold grudges either. The two oldest kids have said I was mean. They have gotten mad and stomped their feet because I took away a tablet or a playdate, for not doing chores or homework. I’ve seen Aspen, my youngest, yank her sister’s hair, pop her birthday balloon, and then laugh in her face, all in a matter of 30 minutes. Moments later they were sitting side by side, laughing and watching Curious George.
Perhaps these are just my kids. Perhaps other children under 10 years old don’t forgive as easily. I only have my family to go on. But what I do know is that at some point, probably in their teens, my kids are going to learn how to get pissed off about things and let it linger. And I’m not sure when they will figure that out because I’m not sure the exact moment I figured it out.
I spend a lot of time teaching my children. I have taught them everything from how to wipe their butts, to how to sleep, to how to read. But I don’t often think of the lessons going the other way. I don’t often wonder what I can learn from my kids, and when I think about their ability to forgive me, their friends, really anyone, in a matter of hours, I realize that there is something that I can learn.
I’m 33, and I’ve seen people hold full-on, multiple-years-long grudges. I’ve seen siblings never speak to each other again because of everything from money to not returning a crockpot. And I will admit, there are some things that are unforgivable. But most things are. And I think kids know this. They don’t let it linger because it will ruin their play. And when I think about how many rewarding moments can be lost because people won’t just let something go, I wish I were a little more like my children.
This isn’t to say that anyone reading this can come to my house, punch me in the face, steal my string cheese, and I will let it go.
That’s a bit much.
But what I can say is that people often use the phrase “learning to forgive,” but actually forgiveness is something that we are born with. What really happens is that somewhere people learn how to hold a grudge. And it’s time to unlearn that.
Because here are the facts:
That day Tristan’s friend punched him in the face could have been completely ruined. But it wasn’t. Those kids played together for hours. They laughed and ran and had a wonderful time. Then, the next week, they did it again. They did it every week until we moved. They had a delightful time all because he was able to let bygones be bygones. All of this makes me wonder what rewarding moments I’m missing out on because I couldn’t get over something, or someone else could let go of some bone-headed thing I’ve done.
This becomes particularly apparent when I think about my older brother, because the thing is, we don’t talk much. In fact, we haven’t spoken in almost a year. When we were kids, we were a lot like Tristan and his friend. We fought, but we got over it. We forgave each other. But somewhere, we learned how to dislike each other. And I’m not sure exactly what happened.
I suppose it was a mix of things. We took on different political positions: Republican and Democrat. We took on different religions: Mormon and non-denominational. And eventually it got to the point that every time we spoke, we were chipping away at one thing or another, little back-biting comments until he stopped returning my calls. And when I think about how inseparable we used to be in our youth, I wonder what moments we’ve lost.
And I’m not sure exactly how to fix that, but I know it’s going to take us forgiving each other for the past, just like my children always do, and then continuing to forgive each other because we are human. It’s going to take us getting back to a former state of letting things go and playing Spider-Man.
I’m going to give him another call. And I’m going to hope he picks up this time. And if he does, I’m going to apologize. If you have someone in your life whom you don’t talk to, but you wish you did, I want you to look at your kids, think about the way they forgive, and then try to be more like them — because we can learn a lot from our children.