Not a huge event, I realize. With both of my kids in school all day for the first time, I fully admit I’ve been on the edge of a full-scale meltdown since they skipped happily down the hallway together that first day. Knowing myself well and prepared for the meltdown to ensue, I made a list of things to occupy the first few months without them around all day.
Even though it feels good to check things off of the list and get around to projects that I’ve put off, nothing will replace Lo Lo’s toddler giggle ringing out throughout the house. Afternoons spent at Cedar Point eating lunch on what Brianne still calls “our bench” by the waterfall; trips to the park in the jog stroller where I met so many wonderful friends; XC practice in the afternoons chasing the high schoolers around. All are now replaced by the exhausted “Lo-nado”,big sister in tow, bursting into the van in the car pick-up line each afternoon at 3:20. Afternoon bike rides, jogs, and trips to the Pied Piper for ice cream are now occupied with homework, dance class, gymnastics, dinner, and bedtime. The toddler years have drifted by, and from the attitude wafting off of my second grader, I know I have to embrace every last bit of innocence I can squeeze out of them each day. Oh, their cute, aren’t they? They are SO beautiful and SO cute…and that keeps them alive. The elementary attitude has arrived, my babies are growing up, I don’t know how to handle it, and to keep from melting into a puddle of tears one afternoon, I decided to cut the lawn.
It’s not that I never had the time to cut the lawn, it’s just that my lines are never straight enough. Our lawn looks like carpet, because my husband has been able to nurture it from the time it was planted shortly after we moved in. He makes sure it’s fertilized, watered, mowed and edged…even though he’s at work no less than 60 hours a week. Now, I personally do not care and cannot keep track of which way the lines are supposed to go each week. Apparently it makes a huge difference in the overall health of the grass or something, but I learned from the old lawn that no matter how happily I sat on the front step like a puppy waiting for a treat for cutting the lawn, if the lines were crooked I was going to hear about it.
Needless to say, I haven’t cut the lawn in years…7 years.
Before I realized I couldn’t make straight lines with a lawn mower, I used to really enjoy it! It’s good exercise, and an excuse to let my favorite music fill my ears at an obnoxiously loud volume without bothering anybody…unless dancing behind the lawn mower counts…then I apologize. One of my favorite memories from my childhood is my Grams, who lived with us a while towards the end of her life, came out to interrupt me cutting the lawn one day. “You’re crazy,” she said, with her trademark smile and giggle. And I laughed. I loved her so much, and have never had another person like her in my life since she passed. I doubt my lines were perfect back then, with No Doubt, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana as my soundtrack.
No matter how hard I concentrate, the lines have never been, and will never be perfect. And I was struck by something while out there cutting the lawn with an Elevation sermon blasting in my headphones. Why am I all of the sudden not OK with that? What changed?
My daughter Brianne plays the ukulele. As a first born, she has the joy of experiencing the overreaction to every new situation she lives through. I was overjoyed that she wanted to play the uke, and dreams of her being on stage and a part of every praise band and musical opportunity rushed to the front of my mind right away. Instrument in hand and a month full of lessons paid for, she was set up for success…until I got in her way. Making her practice, nagging her…wincing when she hit a wrong chord… because of my overcritical approach she stopped wanting to practice. Then, when I threatened to stop paying for lessons if she didn’t practice a little every day, she stopped playing all together.
It’s a tough pill to swallow as a parent. A hard lesson for me to learn. In wanting to force her to follow the lines I considered straight, I smothered her passion to play and opportunity to learn from her mistakes. She listened to the wrong voice. My voice. I was just trying to be a good parent and teach her responsibility, but I clearly got the wires crossed somewhere. I”m supposed to have the encouragement of the Lord in my voice as her mother. Instead, she now thinks she’s terrible at something she once loved to do. #fail.
A church member I look up to in faith shared that her mother has always been her teacher, as she introduced herself as the leader of our women’s Bible study recently. It inspired me to be that for my daughters.
I know all too well the sting of the “not good enough.”
In the spring, I planted Mexican Sunflowers in my backyard. I watered them and waiting patiently for them to grow, and recently learned that they attract Monarch butterflies. In order to attract pretty butterflies….I have to plant the right seeds.I spent way too long listening to the wrong voices. “Send those thoughts back. If they don’t come from God, Mark them return to sender and send them back,” preached Pastor Steven as I swerved around the volleyball net with the lawnmower. #lightbulb. So how do empower my children to do that? Apply that to my parenting?
I bought a uke, and the three of us sit around and play nonsensical stuff sometimes and joke and Brianne teaches us the chords. So, she plays again. And when she wanted to try out for the dance team with a dream in tow to be on pointe shoes some day, I jumped behind her in support and kept my critical opinion to myself. When she asked me to stretch with her, I did. When she asked if I could still do the splits, I did…and then we both erupted in laughter as we heard a giant pop come from somewhere around my hip bones. Clearly too old for that.
The time I spend following my 7 year old zombie daughter around while I nag her to brush her teeth in the morning tests every bit of patience I possess. Kindergarten homework, I now know, is really part Mom’s homework, part test of how long I can keep the lid on my temper. So as I follow my daughter around in the morning, taking deep breaths, making sure she’s ready for school…what voice am I listening to? What boundaries do I set with her and with myself? When my Kindergartner forgets what “if” looks like after she just said it three times, how do I encourage her to recall what was there 30 seconds earlier but has now “left her brain” without having a “reaction” myself? She’s clearly playing a game with me…what are the boundaries? What should the discipline be?
I’m in a full stage meltdown not only due to the amount of time I have to fill now that my girls are at school all day, but because of the different set of boundaries that are encroaching on my system of raising and discipline my girls. How do I discipline them effectively without crushing their confidence? When do I let them make mistakes and which decisions do I still need to be a part of?
I’ve nurtured them since they they were tiny specks in my belly…since their first little cries into this world. I’ve followed the lines, made sure they were as straight as they could be. But now, it’s shifting. Now, they have a mind of their own. They spend a lot of time off in the world without me right there to explain, protect, and catch. And that’s hard. I don’t want to let go of my precious babies. I don’t want them to be exposed to things I don’t want them to be exposed to. I want them to have manners and be disciplined for the lack thereof when necessary.
So I decided pray. A lot. And go to the Word. And thankfully, through the power of bribery in the form of gumballs, we had a moment to discuss our faith as a family after church one Sunday. Hopefully the first of many…
“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.” Psalm 130:5
“Brianne, no one is perfect,” I spoke after another morning meltdown, “Nor do I expect you to be. I love you the same no matter what.”
And then I continued to talk…because no matter how “over their head” the topic may be…somewhere in the middle of “I”m going to ship you off to boarding school so that you can learn some manners!” and “you are really hurting my feelings right now with your behavior,” I hope a hope through the mindless chatter that I let come out of my mouth something will prove useful.
“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” John 13:15
“Grounding you doesn’t change your behavior, so I’m not going to do that anymore,” I explained. “Taking things away from you doesn’t work. Making you write 100 times you won’t do it again still doesn’t keep you from doing it again. Now, I will come up with a punishment, and it will be severe. But, if you are going to fix your behavior, you are going to have to pray about it. You have to let God help you learn and grow, because none of us is equipped to do it on our own. That’s why he left the Bible for us to read.”
In trying not to yell I hope I didn’t church her to death. But it’s the truth. And as I think about the punishment I promised I would deliver to her after school in consequence for her behavior, I’m left truly stumped and humbled. I love my daughters so much, and think the absolute world of them. They are beautiful, talented, and smart. They make my day, every day. I do not want the way in which I discipline them take anything away from the spectacular children of God that they are, chip away at their self-confidence that they, too “Can do all things through Christ who gives them strength,”(Phil 4:13) or the loving relationship we have formed as “best buds” and “best friends” over the years.
I don’t know how to do this. My lines are never straight.
I need God’s help.
Which is exactly where He wants me to be.
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of prayer.” Ephesians 4:23
“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and Word.” 2 Thes. 2:16-17