Saturday, March 1, 2014

there was a little girl . . .

(Picture credit: )

We are sitting in the car & we are both being stubborn.  Neither of us are going to give in easily.  We are sitting here & it's too warm for so early in the morning.  He is digging his heels in & I am not going anywhere ‘til he caves.  He is falling apart & I hold my breath.  I will not give in & I will NOT lose my temper.  I explain again, ‘Sunny, we are not leaving ‘til you’re clicked in.’ He is gasping & sighing and his face is screwing up.  ‘I can’t do it! You HAVE to do it, Mum’. 
Calm voice, steady, assertive.  ‘You can do it, Sunny.  We are going to sit here ‘til you do it.’
Reassuring. ‘There’s no rush, just take your time.’  Panic and the kicking and the arching of the back.  My heart rate rises as the little girl sitting in front of him starts to make I-can’t-sit-here-happily-for-much-longer noises.  Then the tears and the wailing.  ‘I CAN’T do it! You HAVE to do it, Mum. You have to HELP me!’ 
I try another tack.  ‘I’ll help you, yes.  But I’m going to explain what to do.  I’m not going to do it for you.’  He screams and protests and tugs angrily at the strap.  It pulls taut across his neck & when he lets it go slack there are red marks left behind.  ‘See! I can’t do it.  IT'S TOO HARD!’  he screams, flying out of his carseat and over the back of the seat.  Scrambling forwards, until he is in the front of the car with me. Clinging.  With as much self-control as I can muster, I gently pull his fingers from around my neck and ease him off my lap.  He is gasping and sobbing and people are watching.  I try again.   ‘Sunny, I know you can do this.  You’ve been able to put your own seatbelt on for months. C’mon, I’ll talk you through it.’  His response is another scream of protest.  And on and on it goes. 

I would love to be able to say that I stayed peaceful and patient and gently coached him through it.  That he finally sat down and calmly clicked himself in.    In reality that was not the case.  Oh, I managed not to yell and he managed to put his own seatbelt on.   That was AFTER I stared at him and through clenched teeth & in a freakishly calm voice let forth a stream of choice language.  Safely in his seatbelt, I pulled out of the mall carpark and drove home, defeated and feeling physically sick at my own loss of control. 

Hindsight is wonderful, isn’t it?  Upon reflection, choosing that moment to use as a ‘growing opportunity’ was not the wisest.  What I wanted to show him was that he was more capable than he thought.  That instead of saying, ‘I can’t,’ he could say, ‘I’ll try’.  I think it’s safe to say that lesson fell flat.   And that it's safe to say, it wasn’t my finest parenting moment. 

Sometimes as a mum, I feel like that little girl in the poem.  When I’m at my best, man, I am on to it.  Involved, enthusiastic, encouraging, responsive, communicative, loving, empathic, gentle, and fun.  But in a ‘bad’ moment, it all gets pretty ugly.  I’m yelly, shouty, snappy and reactive.  Yes, in those moments, I am horrid. 

Now before you abandon this blog, thinking it's just another ‘woe is me, I’m a terrible mother’ kind of post, hear me out.

Philippians 4 v 5  - Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

When I think about what I want to be as a mum, it's this.  We were in Australia.  My parents and five of my seven siblings and me.  What were Mum & Dad thinking embarking on this trip, on a limited budget, with six kids ages 9-19 and our accommodation for the majority of that time – a very basic two-bedroom apartment?  I remember seeing a video taken on that trip, by my dad or a brother.  And most of us were in a pool and my mum was sitting on the side and we were all splashing about and having fun and making a LOT of noise.  The thing that stood out to me, watching that years later, as a teenager, was the way we little kids kept yelling out, ‘Mum, mum, watch this!’  ‘Watch me, mum – look what I can do,’  all over the top of each other, vying for her attention.  & her response:  just the right amount of calm, and steady, encouraging and interested at the same time.  I remember hearing all that noise and our high-pitched shrieking voices and thinking ‘How can she be so calm and patient? All that noise, everyone yelling at me – it would drive me crazy!’  But for the most part, that was my mum. Patient, peaceful, gentle.

In contrast, I remember an evening when Sunny wasn’t even 2 yet & his sister, 3 and they were eating their dinner.  Sunny accidentally knocked his cup over and water spilled everywhere.  There was a brief pause, as both children looked at me in horror and then simultaneously erupted in tears.  And I knew it was because of all the times this kind of thing had happened and I had responded with a loud gasp & flailing arms & a dramatic, ‘Oh no!!! Now look what’s happened!’ as if the world was about to end because some water was on the floor. 

I might be wrong, but I don’t think my mum has ever had to work particularly hard on this aspect of her personality.  I genuinely think that her calm disposition is just a part of her character, her make-up.  She’s generally a laid-back person, who isn’t easily riled.   And that’s brilliant.  I’m happy for her.  Happy for me of course, because it was nice being raised by someone like that.  But that’s just not me – I’m easily flustered and highly strung. I have a temper. An ugly temper & a short fuse.  BUT.  I do not want to be the angry parent.  & I don’t want anger to be a black smudge on my kids' childhood experience, as it was on mine.  I love my kids too much to settle for this.

It would be so helpful if there was an easy answer.  But I don’t think there is.  I have developed some wonderful strategies over the 6 or so years I’ve been a parent which help me maintain my composure in times of stress.  And yet I still find myself offering heart-felt  (& broken-hearted) apologies to my children (and husband) for angry outbursts again and again.  I wish I could offer up a special prayer and instantly morph into this sweet, easy-going, mild-tempered mother. 

Mum used to have this annoying saying.  Something along the lines of being 'so filled with the Holy Spirit, that if you get bumped only the Spirit sloshes out.'  And you can put that right up there with ‘washed in the blood’ and ‘lay it at Jesus’ feet’ and all the other many weird-and-irritating Christian sayings.  .  . Except, sometimes I think I know what she meant.

 2 Corinthians 12 v 9a -  But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 

There is something about letting Someone Else be in charge.  & I don't in any respect  mean absolving myself of responsibility either.  But being able to admit that this is something so important to me, & yet an area in which I fall so terribly short.  & that I can't do it on my own - in those moments of heat, taking a split-second pause & crying out  'Can You help me?'   

The victories are in the small moments. 


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