Once, when Katie was three and having a hard time obeying, I told her, “When Mama or Daddy asks you to do something, you need to listen.”
“I don’t believe that.”
The incident is clear in my mind because that was the moment I knew I was totally and completely in over my head.
Speaking of listening three-year-olds:
We’d had a rough few days around here, so on Wednesday I decided we needed a change of pace. Something fun to break up the routine. Something that would let us create good memories together.
So I took the kids to the zoo.
(Which was either brave or dumb, depending on who you ask.)
Before leaving the house, I asked them if they would be good listeners. Katie and Abby both said yes, of course, but Miles, primed by parents who ask teasing questions on a regular basis, gave me an enthusiastic “Nooooooo!!!”
Hey, at least he was being honest. (As evidenced by his cooperation in the selfies scattered throughout this post.)
Can I let you in on a little secret?
When it comes to parenting, I am flying by the seat of my pants. That was true four years ago and it’s still true today.
Don’t tell my kids, but I have no idea what I’m doing.
Going to the zoo might have been foolhardy. I knew full-well that tantrums and bad attitudes and general misbehavior could make me regret ever leaving the house. Chances were good that we’d all come home tired, with less patience and kindness than we would normally have.
But, as they say, hope springs eternal and all that. This time, it would be different. This time, we’d float through the day and everyone would be on their very best behavior and they would treasure me and this special adventure for the rest of their lives.
So we went. And we had a great time, with no major mishaps or tantrums along the way (unless you count poor Emmeline, who, when we were 20 minutes away from home, decided she’d had quite enough of her car seat, thank you very much).
We made it home. Miles was playing with his trains and Emmeline was nursing and the big girls were creating art. I was, I’ll admit, giving myself a silent pat on the back for being an amazing mom who navigated a day at the zoo with four kids by herself when Miles, tired of trains, clambered up next to his sisters and tried to help himself to their watercolors and, well, let’s just say: remember that bit about coming home tired with limited patience and kindness?
Yeah. About that. When it happens, like it did on Wednesday evening, it isn’t pretty.
I’m pretty good at second-guessing my decisions. I rerun conversations and actions in my head, wondering if I could have said this or done that to make things come out better than they did.
When it comes to the daily interactions required to shepherd and teach small children, second-guessing can become a full-time job.
Did I handle that behavior well?
Should I have intervened earlier? Later? Not at all?
Am I too strict? Or do I need to hold a firmer line?
What am I teaching them when I do x, y, z?
In the end, it all boils down to this:
Am I doing this thing right?
Despite any hopes I might have had to the contrary, I’ve been a mom long enough that rough evenings after long, fun days don’t surprise me.
(Ha. That sentence makes it sound as though I’m some seasoned expert with loads of experience and knowledge. Which, in case I haven’t said it clearly enough in this post, is laughably far from the truth.)
Still, the Epic Paint Blowup and its resulting fallout left me frustrated and discouraged.
As I told Jonathan later that evening, I had (have) been feeling like I have not been (am not) giving the big kids as much attention as they need. I planned a day out in order to give them my focused time. It was a chance for all of us to have fun together and to invest in our relationships. Instead, it ended the way it did, with tears and yelling and anger.
He listened, then shook his head.
“You still did all the things you wanted to do,” he said. “You still had a great day with the kids, building memories and having fun. The end doesn’t negate the rest of it.”
Am I doing this thing right?
Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that question, not completely. I’m in over my head, flying by the seat of my pants, making it up as I go along. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know how it will all turn out, how my parenting decisions will affect my kids long-term.
But I do know this:
We will have hard days because we’re human beings living in a broken world, but the ugly does not negate the beautiful and the good,
these kids are loved. By me, by their dad, by friends and family. By a God who knows and cares for them more than I ever could. Which is the most beautiful and good thing there is.
On Wednesday evening, after the storm had abated and apologies were given and accepted, I was getting the big girls ready for bed. We read and we prayed, and then it was time for each girl to choose a song.
We have a broad repertoire to choose from, ranging from nursery rhymes to modern praise choruses and everything in between. Sometimes, the sheer number of options is overwhelming. The process of choosing can take an excruciatingly long time.
On Wednesday, however, the girls knew what they wanted right away. They both chose songs all three of us know: “Joy to the World” (Abby) and “The Doxology” (Katie).
As their voices joined mine in singing to the King who rules the world with truth and grace, the One from whom all blessings flow, they snuggled in close to me and, for a brief moment, all seemed right with the world.