Sometimes it overwhelms me, this responsibility that I carry around in my heart.
It's not the feeding, grooming and educating of these small children so much, though they are great enough tasks in themselves. It's the other parts of parenting that feel like they might sweep me away in a flood.
Last summer I talked about my realization that I am my children's first image of what a woman is. My person and character will be imprinted on their brains forever. When someone says the word mother, I, the way I am right now and will be, am the image that springs to their mind. Will it be a good memory?
My heart aches each time I lay next to the Girl at quiet time and she kisses my hand. I am so often impatient with her. She is so much harder to teach and understand sometimes than the Boy. And still she wants me next to her when she's resting. Still she turns her face towards me, kisses my hand and smiles up at me with that dazzling perfect smile of hers, eyes alight over the upturned little nose and that perfect mouth. "I like you mom," she whispers. And then settles in against me with a happy sigh before drifting off into sleep.
She is so quick to forgive, so ready with a smile, an appreciative laugh, a bit of silliness. How long before she starts to hate me? How long before she doesn't like me any more? How long before they see through me, see the sham and realize that I don't deserve them, didn't ever deserve them, and turn away in disgust?
And now you are wondering about my childhood and what could have happened there that could make me fear so much my children hating me. And you would be right about the source of all this, though it is water way under the bridge now.
Yet, those same things that I love about her, about them, are also the same things that drive me crazy, cause me to forget myself. She is so silly, to the point of not doing what she's told. She's so wrapped up in her world that she doesn't even hear the instruction sometimes. She's so emotional and takes everything personally. She clings to me crying in the kitchen, pulling at my clothes and my hair, dogging my every step, whining in unceasing waves of piercing grunting sounds. All because her turn to help with the bread is over but she wanted to crack an egg and now she's sad that the Boy got to do that part. And I say, far to loud, "Get out of my way!" until she takes her self to her bed and wails.
The Boy reacts with undisguised anger when I tell him to do something that he knows he ought to be doing, and I want to quit, pack it in. I'm tired of being the law around here.
Does it really matter if the house is a pile of clutter? Is it really worth the effort and pushing against each other that it takes to establish healthy routines and expectations? Do we really need to get through school today? Can we wait a few more years before I start teaching them to cheerfully obey? Do these things really matter?
Why can't we just enjoy each other and make cookies every day and play all the time? Why can't I keep them close forever and stay their friend?
And then reality sets in again. It does matter. And there is no way to make cookies together every day without someone crying anyway. I'm trying to raise successful adults here, not a fan club. And children need to learn that they must give way to others and take turns. They need to learn the discipline of obedience now. They need to learn how to figure out many boys are in the class if there are 20 students and 6 of them are girls.
And I can't be perfect. I can only do my best. And not try to hide it from them when I fail, asking forgiveness of tear streaked faces for the times when I have not been a very good grown up.
The things that I as an adult most wish my parents had done differently are in these areas where I now struggle with teaching my children. Self control, discipline, giving praise for concrete things rather than vacuous nothings that became meaningless with time, allowing real live consequences that they have to struggle through now when the stakes aren't as high.
And here is the crux of my fear. How long before they see through me and realize that I'm not yet that grown up that I want to help them become?
I want them, when they remember me, to remember that I was an adult. I don't want them to look back and realize how immature I was, how impatient, ungracious, hasty with words. And yet, when I look at myself from time to time I know that I have a long way to go to become that person. How will they remember me as I want them to when I am so often not that way.
And I feel overwhelmed by it all and realize how deeply I am failing them as each moment goes by.
And yet, I can't be perfect. I can only do my best. But am I? Do I bring my best to each day I have with them? Or do I stay up too late working on things that are less important, wasting time, and rising exhausted in the morning? Am I obedient and faithful with what I have been given?
Many days the answer is no. And the only way to change that is to change me. And that feels overwhelming too.
And yet, there is hope. There is one who gave His best for me, and promises to give me the power to change if I will only ask. Just take the step that is front of me. Forget all the others that will follow for the moment. Just do them in the order that they appear.
I am forever reminding my children as they are overwhelmed with tasks, just start with the first thing. First make the bed, then pick up the clothes, then the blocks. Don't just sit on the floor and stare at the mess.
If you want to know what ninety six minus four equals, it's easier to start by asking what's 6 minus 4?
And here I am overwhelmed.
First pray. I need self control.
And in the stillness after...
First go to bed on time. What needs to happen so I can do that? Okay, do it now.
And as I lay there, not yet sleeping because I'm so unaccustomed to sleep at such an hour, I realize every choice is pulling me one way or the other. They don't matter in themselves, but cumulatively they change me. Every choice toward self indulgence weakens my will, brings me closer to death. Every choice toward discipline, toward choosing to bring my best in service of this family of mine is a choice toward life. And mine hangs in the balance. And so does theirs for the present.
Perhaps, if I practice what I preach a little more closely, leaning into the grace that is there for all of us, and choose more often to be self controlled I will become the mother I want to be for them before it's to late.