This short story grew out of my meditations on the message that John sent to Jesus from prison.
Once upon a time there were two parents, a loving Mother and Father, who had to go away for a long time.
Now, this mother and father had many children. A big family, at least a dozen children!
Some of the children were nearly old enough to be left in charge, but not quite, so they hired a nanny to stay with the children while they were away.
Now, nannies when the parents are away, especially for a long time, are like substitute teachers.
So, the nannies did their best to keep the kids in line, but it didn’t often work very well.
The parents had left some written instructions, guidelines, for the children, but they didn’t pay a lot of attention to them.
The guidelines talked about sharing things equally, and making sure the stronger children looked after the weaker ones, rather than taking advantage of their size.
But, being children, they didn’t pay a lot of attention.
The bigger children did take advantage of the smaller ones.
When they sat down at the dinner table, the bigger kids took more of the food than they needed, so that the smaller, weaker children got weaker still.
When the stronger children wanted something done, they got the little kids to do it for them by promising they’d give them a little bit of their extra food after dinner.
In this way, the bigger kids, even though they were strong, started to become overweight, and lazy. So they needed even more help from the weaker kids. They made the smaller kids do more and more, and gave them less and less of their “extra” food.
All the while, the nannies tried to get them to pay attention to the parent’s instructions. They hollered and cried, they threatened and punished, but the kids pretty much laughed at them. If the nanny got to be too annoying, they’d gang up on her till she couldn’t stand it any more and quit. Then a new nanny would have to be found. (You can imagine how difficult THAT was for the parents, doing it from far away!)
And then, some of the earlier nannies got an idea. If the kids weren’t afraid of the nannies, maybe they’d be afraid of their parents! So, they started adding little bits and pieces to the instruction sheets, bits and pieces that threatened horrible punishments for the kids that didn’t obey the instructions. Maybe THAT would make them behave a little better!
And you know, for a few of them, it worked. And there were a few others who just did what the instructions said anyways, just because they loved their parents, whom they vaguely remembered.
But not many.
Most of the kids did pretty much what they wanted. Mom and Dad had been gone so long it didn’t seem they’d ever come back. So the strong ones kept beating up on the weak ones, and taking advantage of them, and sometimes, when they thought they could get away with it, the weak ones would do something horrible back, like the time that one of the boys left his marbles right at the head of the stairs before his sister came down, and she fell and broke her arm!
They all wanted more of the food at dinner, but all they did, most times, was fight about it. The nannies cried, and hollered, and kept saying, “Wait till your parents get home!” But mostly the kids just laughed.
And then, the newest nanny, about the tenth one they say, got a telegram. “Hi kids! STOP. We’ll be home soon! STOP. Hope you’re all loving each other and behaving for the nanny! STOP.”
“Hurray!” said the nanny. “Now you’re all gonna get it!” She dragged out the lists of directions from the parents and started reading them aloud. “See where it says you shouldn’t be so greedy! Now you’d better pay attention! And look what else it says! It says here that you guys who ate too much and grabbed too much, you’re gonna get it big time! HA! And you little guys, you’d better quit with the marbles! I know that’s no accident. You’d better tell your brothers and sisters you’re sorry too!”
So, since the parents were really coming, and soon, the kids started listening to the nanny. Some of them did apologize to their brothers and sisters, but mostly the little ones. They didn’t have much to lose. The bigger, stronger kids started to worry about all the punishments they’d be in for. They started to figure out ways to keep the nanny from telling on them when their parents got back. She went on hollering at them, and threatening them with the parents’ directions. (This nanny didn’t know that the earlier nannies had changed them.)
And the kids still ignored her, except they tried to figure out how to lock her in the coat closet, where maybe Mom and Dad wouldn’t find her.
And then the big day came, and Mom and Dad arrived, and found the house in a terrible mess. The littler kids were all skinny and undernourished, and they had bruises and scrapes from getting beat up all the time. The nanny was overjoyed as she listened from the closet (she still hid in there because she was afraid of the bigger kids) and she could hear mom and dad as they cried and swept up the little kids in their arms. “Oh, yes, now they’re gonna get it. Just wait till they catch up with the big ones!” Mom and Dad took the little ones and bandaged their wounds. They fixed a big dinner and there was so much food that it never seemed to run out, no matter how much the kids took. And the nanny started to get impatient. “Hmm.. must be waiting to drop the axe. Gonna get the little buggers all comfortable and then, ‘WHAMMO’ really surprise ’em with the punishments.”
But as she listened, Mom and Dad never yelled at the children. Any of them. They doctored the little ones, and advised them against the marble trick. It would only make their brothers and sisters even madder, and get them nowhere.
And they put the overweight kids on diets, which they didn’t like very much, but it started to make them healthier. And they even took care of the broken arms and legs from the marbles! And, when the bigger kids would let them, Mom and Dad hugged and cuddled them, too.
“Hmm,” said the nanny, checking her sheets of directions again, going back to the wonderful parts about all the horrible punishments that the bad kids were supposed to get. “They’re not doing this right. I bet they’re not the real parents! I bet that’s it!”
So, she wrote a note, and sent it, by one of the littler children who still liked her, to Mom and Dad. It said, “Are you the parents who said they were coming? Or should I be waiting for the real ones?”
Mom and Dad smiled, because they understood how frustrated the nanny must have been.
Then Mom, who was just then putting a Pooh Bear band-aid on one of the littler children said, “Honey, you go back to nanny and tell her what you see. You probably don’t remember us too well, but don’t we act like parents?”
And Dad, who was at that moment scratching under the cast on the arm of one of the bigger kids, one of those itches it’s really hard to get to, he said, “Yes, tell her what you see. We’re feeding our children, and bandaging their hurts, and making them feel better, and loving them. Just tell her that.”
“But, but…” said the little one, who had been rescued from a horrible beating by the nanny, and was very loyal. “But..” she said, pointing at the directions, at one of the parts where there were horrible punishments.
“Yes, honey, we’ve seen that, but you just go back and tell nanny that we don’t work that way. Tell her, ‘You can’t teach children to love, except by loving them.’ Just tell her that.”