There’s lots to say about what you’ve been up to these days – details about your mastery of the game of UNO, your case of pneumonia, the way you’re unwittingly starting to learn to read and spell, the cranberry sauce all over your face at the Thanksgiving table, your Question Notebook, or the beginning of our special one-on-one times together that we’re calling “Worship School” for now. But I’m going to save all that kind of stuff for #57 because I’ve got one big thing to write about today.
I sat down to write this a week ago, but I am beyond exhausted these days. Even though I’ve known what I’d write for several weeks since a sermon on God’s determination to put his love on us, I just keep failing to find the strength to tackle it. This is as far as I get last week:
I put you to bed over ninety minutes ago and yet just now we were having a little come-to-Jesus in Daddy’s office because you are still horsing around. Actually, that’s not why. Why is because when I asked who turned the light on you said “Meredith” and then admitted at the first challenge that it was you. (Work on that art a little. It’s not very sophisticated yet.) So our topic of conversation tonight was telling lies and being a coward, trying to make your very own sister a scapegoat for the consequences you didn’t want to face yourself.
The straight-up reality these days is you are more often than not very little fun to be around.
So here I am to start over, and it’s not going to sound much different.
This morning I completely lost it at you. I shouldn’t have. I’m going to say that at the very start. The situation was the perfect storm. I was stressed, rushed, sleepy, sad. Joshua woke me every two hours last night. My grandma just died. I’m coming down with a cold. I have been working around the clock for the last 4-5 weeks to finish our basement renovation. I’m simply ragged. I slept in way too late and was hurrying you through all that needed to happen to get us out the door for your preschool.
You, of course, were not hurrying, and as usual you were meeting my leadership with indifference, if not contempt. You were also not focusing, but this, too, gave me no license to fly off the handle at you, because I know you, and I know that “focusing” is to you about like “reading a mechanical diagram” to me. It is not one of your innate abilities. In fact, you completely suck at it. It is one of your innate inabilities.
Still, your controlling and idealistic mom was not thrilled to discover (at the very moment we were walking out the door almost ten minutes late) that you’d left the untied grocery bag of diaper trash upside down on the rug. Somewhere between the bathroom and the top of the stairs (we’re talking 5 yards here) you lost track of what you were doing and set the beepity beeping bag down on the rug WHERE WE NEVER PUT TRASH.
So I was just straight-up mean to you as I herded us out the door. I knew all the while that I’d need to sort it out with you, come to you and ask forgiveness sometime between my tantrum as we got in the car and our kiss goodbye at school less than two miles down the street. I was mean anyway, because I am a selfish sinner and a weak human. And then we found a quiet place in the school hallways and snuggled and regained our peace. You always forgive so easily, like it’s really no big deal.
This staggers me and humbles me. It fills me with a heavy awareness of the power of being a parent: little children will always forgive their mommies, and they get no say in whether they are treated respectfully or not. I do not like having this much power. But of course I can’t change that, so I just try to temper it a bit by helping to empower you, too. By listening when you say “When you do that I don’t ever like to have grown-ups be around me.” By affirming that you are allowed to stick up for yourself and assert your right to be treated respectfully. By my absolute commitment to level with you about my own sin against you – never ever to sweep it under the rug or just let time cool us off. It’s not much, but it’s all I have. And it seems to be enough.
Your easy recovery from our nasty words stuck with me as I left you at your classroom. My recovery took much longer, and really it was only reflecting on yours that helped me sort it out. I wondered that those moments didn’t ruin your day completely. I felt that they’d ruined mine, and I felt a deep need for penance. Shame, actually, is what it was. Always this resolution that I will need to never ever treat my kids that way again. Combine that with my own wisdom that knows I most certainly will, and I spend a good while wallowing in disgust, feeling like I am doomed to mess up my family.
The irony of it is that I don’t treat you the way I am treating myself or internally inviting and expecting you to treat me. I want to rake myself over the coals, but that’s not how I feel towards you when you are impossible. My big goal for you is to show you, always, and over and over, that you are loved and special and cherished and treasured. And despite how much Daddy and I may feel 99% annoyance with you these days for your sullen attitude, disrespectful responses, selfish rudeness to your sister, your narcissistic attitude that uses everyone around you as a prop for your own pleasures, your constant failure to actually hear the words we say to you… All this stuff does make us pull our hair out most of the time these days, but the bottom line is still the same: You are our treasured son and that status is entirely transcendent of these grievances and shortcomings.
Kari Patterson is a wise mom whom I’ve been reading in the last year or so and a few weeks ago
she articulated perfectly what I’m here stumbling over:
They are my children. That is why each of them is special. How it would break my heart to see them try to earn special.
They don’t need to earn special.
They are special. They are special because they’re my children. She could erase holes in her workbook page every day of the year for the rest of her life and she’d never stop being special to me. Sure, I might work to correct her excessive-erasing habit.
But she doesn’t need to earn special. She is special.
He speaks this to us too, His kids.
You don’t have to earn special. You are.
Maybe this is for one of you today as well: “Can you just know that I love you. Can that be enough?”
It’s very true that I want you to stop responding to everything I say with a barely audible “Oh,” said from this deep place in your neck where your chin is, eyes furrowed with disgust. I want you to develop the skill of focus and follow-through. I want you to stop obsessively analyzing whether or not a food is your favorite when it is time to eat. I want you to stop controlling and using your sister for your own pleasure. But your status doesn’t depend on these things.
And mine doesn’t either.
We belong to each other and love each other because we are special to each other. That’s how God knit us together: as family. You forgive me because you love me. Not only that, God does too. Little by little I’m learning to let go of my own private self-horror in the aftermath of these ugly moments. Learning to recognize that everything is just the same as where it all started: We are all loved, special, OK. Jesus is claiming us. Proud of us. God is happy with us. Everything’s good here.
God is happy with us.
Everything is good here.
I love you.