Coming in at nearly 3 and nearly 1.5 years, my children do most of their learning by observation. They see actions that are permitted. They see actions that are met with swift discipline. They see good habits and bad habits.
But at this tender young age, they don’t see subtleties.
Once, I tried to pretend to sit on Marissa to make her laugh. She was NOT in the mood. James walked up to me, grabbed my wrist, gave it a pop, and said, "No sit baby!"
Yes, that is how we discipline. The toddler's observational skills clued him into mastering that skill, but he was unaware of the subtle restriction on who can discipline whom.
An even more subtle subtlety is the differences in the acceptability of actions here in the village vs in that culture he'll call his home culture, that culture that he walked out of at 8 months old and has spent more time away from than immersed in.
How can he possibly compare? How can a 2.5 year old be reasoned with?
The social norms and values, that moms in the States can trust will be held up by those within their community, falls solidly on the shoulders of my husband and I to ingrain. I have little in the way of reinforcements. The lessons we teach in the home are blatantly defied when we walk out of our front door.
But hear this! It's not because our culture is better, but different. I find myself flitting back and forth between teaching why what happens in the village is not acceptable behavior for my American children and teaching why what we do in the American bubble of our house is not acceptable in the village.
See, here, dogs are not pets. Food is not plentiful enough to be handing out to those who don't earn their keep. Dogs are for hunting. Here, houses are pretty exclusively for sleeping. People LIVE outside. They bathe outside and use the facilities outside. They wash dishes and clothes outside. And they cook outside. Meaning food meant for families is very accessible to dogs. They have learned over the years that being nice to dogs welcomes them to stealing food. And food is not plentiful enough to have good pieces in the jaws of dogs. So to protect from hunger, to protect their children from starvation, they treat dogs in such a way that they steer very clear of the cooking fire. Consistently, they make a sound, a mix between a hiss and crying out, whenever they are not nice to the dogs, and eventually and often the sound alone can run off a dog. But if he's feeling particularly belligerent, the dog will be swiftly reminded of why he ought to be turning tail.
A cry will rise up from a mama to instigate action and everyone from the youngest child up will jump on board to defend the food. Those closest will smack the rump or kick the dog. If a stick is handy, it'll be used to give a whip. Dirt clods or bits of rock will be hurled from the far side of the fire, until the dog remembers his place and leaves.
In America, we have the privilege of an indoor kitchen with counters and tabletops that exceed the reach of a hungry dog. Our houses don't have exposed beams and supporting logs that make it easy for small nimble dogs to find themselves within access of dinner. We have the privilege of dog food that is accessible and affordable so that our dogs don't end up so hungry that they're constantly scavenging for a meal. With affordable fresh meat available at the local grocery store, a hunting dog isn't a necessary inconvenience but dogs find homes with those who want a dog for merely the joy of having a dog. For all these reasons and more, we have the privilege of pets and, as a result, there's cultural value of treating dogs well.
Here in the village, like in America, there's a cultural value of feeding one's family. But while America is privileged enough to be able to support both cultural values without compromise, that isn't feasible here.
So daily, whether it's a dog or a pig or a cat or whatever animal is causing a problem in the moment, my children watch animals treated poorly as a socially acceptable act. Led by example, my children flip between trying to mimic the local children and trying to treat the village dogs like they do our own. Both are unacceptable.
I cannot permit my children to kick dogs or beat pigs. And yet animals subjugated to this treatment are not known to be as kind to petting and loving as our dog who is unfamiliar with a cruel hand, so trying to love a village dog will only result in a chunk taken out of my kid.
I always find it amazing how God uses the family unit to reveal Himself more. But here my husband and I stand, trying to imitate the perfect Love of our Father for our children. And just as God is the source of morality, what He declares good is good and what He declares bad is bad because He alone is perfect and there is no one greater than Him to speak otherwise, we stand as those who declare what is right and wrong for our children, even when the world we're living in defies our teaching.
I expect, I demand that my children act counter-culturally in many respects in the same way that God expects and demands that we live counter-culturally to the fallen world that we find ourselves in.
It's a hard lesson for the students