Jack has been particularly worried about the arrival of today: his eighth birthday. Like any decent pair of LDS parents we have been teaching Jack about baptism and the important choice it is. We believe that people aren't accountable for their sins until they reach an age where they can choose right from wrong for themselves and that when they enter the covenant of baptism they are able to consciously choose to do it themselves. We believe that the age of accountability is eight years old.
So a few months ago Jack had a complete breakdown because Christmas was coming and he was totally convinced that he was on the naughty list. He was sobbing and shaking and experiencing real pain. I felt extremely guilty because I am the one who constantly uses the threat of finding coal in your stocking to get my kids to behave. I had obviously milked it a little too much. I assured him that he was a great kid and was sure to be showered with presents from Santa but he was skeptical because he knows that I have no direct contact with The Elves. He knows I am biased.
Finally, to convince him I told him that I was going to let him in on a Mom Secret. I told him that there has never been in the history of the planet a kid under eight years old on the naughty list because it is impossible for them to commit a sin. Christ's atonement makes all children perfect and gives them eight years to learn the ropes before they are required to repent when they screw up and even then, we always have access to His saving grace and are granted forgiveness whenever we need it and every Sunday at church we can renew our baptismal covenant and be made perfect again. This is the most important thing you can ever know. If you died right now, you would be sent to celestial glory with no questions asked. It is covered by the Atonement. How can a person with literally perfect standing in the Kingdom of God get onto the naughty list?
This made sense to him and he was comforted. But then he turned his worry to a new topic: The tragedy of his impending eighth birthday. It was about a week after this conversation that his cousin Ella had an eighth birthday. She came over to our house and we all wished her a happy birthday and then Jack gave his condolences. "Now everything you do counts." He warned soberly. "And you get to be baptized and receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost!!!" I added. "And now when you are bad, it hurts Jesus!" he was clearly going to get the last word and add an element of fear to this celebration.
The thing that chaps my hide about this whole thing is that I understand that eight years old is the age of accountability and I understand that there is nothing magical about the age other than by that time kids are old enough to make choices and they have had enough life experience to know when they are wrong. These two facts have applied to Jack for quite some time now. He technically has a free pass before today but I have an issue with the fact that he has been using the last two months of his seventh year to have one big last hurrah. He will swipe money from my purse and when confronted look me in the eye and say "I'm not accountable." check mate. This morning over breakfast he asked, "Am I accountable today? Or do I get today free and it starts tomorrow?" Right. freaking. now, buddy.
When I think back to my baptism I have very few solid memories. I remember being indignant that I had to share the meeting with another child in the ward. (my first sin) I remember running into the church and tripping on the grass and getting dark green grass stains all over the front of my perfectly white dress and tights (karma for my first sin) I remember getting into the warm water and being overcome with the feeling that this was the best thing I could ever possibly do. I remember all of my aunts and uncles and cousins from across town at our house afterwards and when I asked what the occasion was my dad pointed out that everyone was here for me to celebrate my baptism. I was shocked that any of them cared enough to make the drive. I saw my opportunity and asked my dad for money (which I often did and got turned down). He reached into his pants pocket and handed me everything in it. It wasn't just a handful of change, there was paper money in there. Nothing he could have done would have driven home the importance of that day to me more. The best five bucks the man has ever spent.
I wish I remembered more about the day but then sometimes I am comforted to know that when my kids look back at their lives as small children, most of the details will be gone and the lessons and principles will be what is left. When I have a parenting moment that is less than ideal and I feel guilty I remind myself that the odds of the child actually remembering this moment are infinitesimal. I can tell you who my second grade teacher was, but nothing more. I still know the difference between a vowel and a consonant and I can still subtract single digits in my head but of the hundreds of second grade school days, I can only tell you about the time we were lined up on the playground and everyone was making a fuss because there was a tiny frog on the sidewalk and a mean third grade teacher in an attempt to regain order walked up and mistaking the frog for a cricket stomped on it. We were all horrified into submission and I spent the rest of the day wondering why I valued the life of a frog so much more than that of an insect. I cant wait to hear what my boys end up remembering.