Of Blood and Chocolate
The Stains of Childhood


I'm a real klutz with stains. I try to get them out, but to no avail.  As soon as I put on a new shirt (preferably white), my phobias begin.  Sure enough, moments later a stain appears: spaghetti sauce, chocolate, magic markers, you name it.  How it gets there is beyond me.

As a case in point, I am wearing a white sweatshirt of my college alma mater.  I bought it four months ago when I was on campus.  Yes, I knew white was a poor choice, but it was the only one I could afford.  All the snazzy looking sweatshirts cost $50.00  But that's another story.  As I look to my right shoulder, I notice three small, but very noticeable stains.  One I'm pretty sure is Kool-Aid or either pink felt tip pen.  The other two look suspiciously like mud or make-up.  Am I the only mom so skilled at ruining clothes?

Ah, but I've given myself away.  That's just it.  I'm a mom, and the stains of childhood are many. 

One day, a beautiful spring day in March, I was stuck inside with my two literally "snotty-nosed" kids.  The four-month-old baby had a clogged-up nose which had caused him to waken us six times during the previous night.  My toddler's cold had seemed rather harmless up until now.  You know the kind.  It eventually turns into a double ear infection on Saturday night so that you have to rush to the "on call" doctor.  He is less than thrilled to see your screaming child, terrifies him with a brusque manner and charges you an arm and a leg.  You'd have settled for a healthy ear.  But I'm straying. 

Anyway, on this morning, I was horrified to see that what my toddler had was a nosebleed--on both sides.  He, of course, refused to have his nose wiped.  I tried to remain calm as he frolicked towards Mommy on my new white eyelet comforter.  I knew that with my history with stains, the comforter would never survive blood.  Fortunately we made it off the bed and into the den.

Later, as I nursed the baby on the couch, I watched  toddler Andrew with eagle eyes.  He was eating a small piece of chocolate, which had been his reward for letting me squirt a seawater liquid into his nostrils.  Doctors orders, of course, to disinfect his nose.  It seemed rather barbaric to me.

Andrew climbed onto the sofa and began to read a book.  With one turn of the head, chocolate drooled onto a peach cushion.  Another spot hit the couch.  Lurching away as I tried to wipe his nose, he smeared the back of the sofa with blood.

After a moment of desperate coaching on my part, Andrew blew his nose.  But then, as I was persuading him to sit still, the baby spit up all over the arm of the couch.
 
For a moment, I thought I might scream as I surveyed the array of new colors on my sofa: bright red, off white and black-brown.  Then I remembered that I had just had this sofa Scotch-guarded.  All I had to do was to "get a moist, clean cloth and wipe lightly over the affected area".  Those were the salesman's directions.  I had already gone through this procedure before and watched, in amazement, as the stains disappeared.  Unbelievable!  I had even considered the possibility of Scotch-guarding my whole wardrobe and that of my children as well.  But would the Scotch-guard meet it's match with blood and chocolate?

Even as I contemplated that depressing thought, my conscience reminded me:  "It's only a sofa.  The kids are what's important.  They're only young for such a short time.  Only snotty-nosed a little while.  Don't make Andrew feel bad.  He can't help it if he's got a nosebleed."

I agreed with my conscience.  Of course, of course.  Yet, couldn't I be a wonderful, loving mommy and protect my sofa at the same time?  I found myself laughing at the idea.

But I stopped smiling as the Spirit revealed an uncomfortable truth to me:  the problem was real.  How selfish was I after all?  Blood and chocolate, yes, those stains would eventually disappear--clothes would be discarded, the sofa recovered.

But the stains of childhood, real, intangible, unseen but forever marked upon a tender conscience, these would be carried into adulthood.  They would be inerasable and unprotected from the "Scotch-guard, quick cleaning" mentality of the world in which we live.

Jesus had taken time for little children.  I remembered the story well: 

It was customary for mothers to bring their little ones to rabbis to be blessed.  But Jesus' disciples thought such an action to be a waste of the Son of God's time.  Perhaps they wanted to keep his life neat and clean.  Doubtless they thought Jesus had more important things on his agenda.

What did Jesus do?  He scooped up the babies and children in his arms and blessed them.  He probably got more than one stain on his white robe when He did that.  And He issued these timeless words, "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all." (Mark 10:15)

Jesus knew that His simple gesture centuries earlier would serve as an important example to 20th century moms like me on that warm spring day.  How easily I was lured into trying to be perfect for God.  Perfect family, perfect house, perfect ministries, and sometimes, a perfect mess. 

He reminded me that my kids were crying, "I'm not perfect, Mommy.  I can't be.  I just need you, now."  Now when the nose is runny, and the sofa stained.   Stains everywhere.  Would I cuddle the kids in my lap or would I reach for the moist cloth? 

"Oh, Lord," I prayed silently, "Keep me from Scotch-guarding my life at the expense of my kids.  And when a stain appears on my child's heart, because there will be many, help me to clean it with love and understanding and time."

Two years have passed since Andrew's nosebleed.  He is almost five and the baby, Christopher, is now the toddler.  My sofa looks a little worse for the wear.  The blood and chocolate are gone (I think), but other stains have taken their place.  The Scotch-guard has worn off.  Oh, at times, I still get out a moist cloth and attempt to clean it.  That  doesn't really work.  But for now, the sofa's stains are memories for me.  Memories of little active boys growing up.  And hopes for indelible marks of love and grace on their hearts.           .

Elizabeth Goldsmith Musser, c1993