The first time my firstborn son heard the story of David and Goliath it took him months to recover.
I. Am. Not. Kidding.
He was traumatized. Now, this was more a result of how the material was presented than the actual content. It was at a VBS (vacation Bible school) event. Jackson was by far the youngest kid there. But the older kids loved him and considered him a kind of mascot and used to include him in whatever they were doing. So, while I snatched some grown-up time hanging out on the deck with the other mamas, Jackson was carted from activity to activity with the pre-teens, holding hands and sitting on laps.
Twenty minutes later I was shot right out of my comfortable seat when I heard him hit the bad place. If you’re a mom, you know what I mean. It’s that place where kids bypass whimpering, crying and calling for you and go directly into terrified, high pitch screams of hysteria that will deafen dogs.
When you hear that kind of scream you RUN.
Jackson was running too. Screaming and running away from the tent where just five minutes before he had been sitting with the kids watching a – wait for it – shadow puppet play of the David and Goliath story. In retrospect, I realized the brilliance of the storytelling methodology that the teachers had selected. Because, using shadow play behind a tent room divider you can act out, quite graphically, how a massive giant threatened a little boy and subsequently had his head cut off by a sword.
Only problem- toddlers can’t differentiate between fact and fiction. And as far as Jackson was concerend, a giant with a sword and a severed head was now lying in that tent. He could not be calmed down. He could not be reasoned with. He would not return to the tent, the deck or any other area associated with the VBS. I had to take him home.
In my own mind, the whole thing was kind of cute and funny. This was my first serious parenting error. I kept trying to diminish Jackson’s terror. I kept trying to show him through my eyes that the giant wasn’t really scary and the little shepherd boy wasn’t really scared.
I kept at that angle all through his terror that wasn’t doused by bathtime, a bottle or bedtime. He insisted on sleeping with me. He repeatedly asked, “But why dat giant was trying to get dat liddle shepherd boy?” He would not let it go. He woke up during the night and would whisper, “Mama, I’m scared of dat giant.” And in true beating-my-head-on-a-brick-wall fashion, I would repeat with all the tender comfort in my voice I could muster, “But, honey, it’s not scary – it’s just a story.”
It was only when the sun was coming in through the window the next morning and I’d had time to ask God how I was going to get Jackson through this that I finally got it. I got that I needed to take the story of David and Goliath that I had heard a hundred times since my own childhood and turn it around. I held it in my hands and looked at it from a new angle. I peered at it until I could see it through Jackson’s eyes. Through the eyes of a little boy, shorter than everyone around him, with a heart that takes on the worries and hurts of his family and friends.
And you know what? It was scary. Plain and simple. That is a scary story.
So when he stirred in the bed next to me, opened his eyes and his first whispered words were, “Mama, why dat giant want to get dat liddle shepherd boy?” I leaned in close and said, “That’s really scary that he wanted to hurt the little shepherd boy, isn’t it?”
His eyes widened, “Yes,” he breathed out on a long note. “Yes, dat’s so scary. Why, mama, why dat giant want to hurt dat liddle boy?”
So we went back to the beginning of the story. From the safety of our bed. While the sun was gently rising outside, we re-traced the steps of the most well-known shepherd boy in history. We looked at his story piece by piece. I offered Jackson the parts that he could relate to best to explore first. David was smaller than all the big brothers. He was the shortest. He loved music and he loved to dance. David loved God and God loved David.
“But why dat giant wanted to get David?”
We talked about how some people make fun of little kids. How some people don’t believe in God. How the giant shouted bad words at God’s people and it made them scared.
“What David did ‘den, mama?”
The battle scene was up next. I was nervous. I knew this was the part that terrified Jackson. So I tried to edit. He noticed right away.
“No, no, mama. He gots a sling. You forgot da sling.”
Ok, yes, the sling, the 5 small stones that David picked up from a little stream and put in his pocket. The practice he had had fighting lions and bears when he was watching over his sheep. Jackson loved that. But he kept coming back to the sling.
“But, what’s a sling mama. What is it?”
How to explain a sling to a two and a half year old? Words failed me. I needed the real thing. But at 7am on a Michigan morning out in the middle of nowhere, where’s a girl to find a sling?
Now, if you’re a woman and a mama you already know by now the answer to that one.
Why, in your underwear drawer of course!
So, I whipped out a nursing bra, popped a pebble into one of the cups and gripping the two ends tightly I swung it round and round and round my head.
“Down with you, Goliath! You can’t say bad words to God’s people,” I whooped while whirling my bra above my head like a madwoman.
Faster and faster I slung it.
“I might just be a little boy, but my God is big and strong!”
And with a flourish I let one end of the bra strap go. That pebble shot true as an arrow and collided into our wall with an epic crash. Jackson turned from the wall to me and a huge grin broke across his face as I ended the tale, “And then Goliath came crashing down. And he couldn’t hurt David or God’s people any more.”
Jackson was entranced. He was visibly relieved. He was also intrigued. He wanted to try his hand at the sling. That’s a memory that will be with me the rest of my life. My little blond-haired warrior whirling my bra above his head as he shrieked war cries at the enemy in his imagination and hurled stone after stone after stone at him.
What a victory it was. For both of us.
Because at four years old, Jackson watched the veggie tales version of David and Goliath last night for the first time. He held my hand tightly. He covered his eyes in places. But we both knew how the story ended. And the slingshot scene was all we had hoped it would be.