Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city. Proverbs 16:32
Two falls ago, when Abraham began preschool, I went through—what shall we call it?—a Momzilla season. I was obsessed with the idea that I was going to be the perfect preschool mom: on time, makeup on, every single morning. I wanted to make my family proud, proving to everyone I encountered in this new environment that I was a fabulous mom. And, because of that silly little thought stuck in my head, I behaved differently toward my sweet little flibbertygibbit preschooler than I would have otherwise.
Abraham has never cared about food. When he was an infant, I had to wring ice cold water over him to wake him up enough to keep nursing. He has always barely hovered at 5th percentile on the growth chart, with his little ribs sticking out, despite my Ma Ingalls efforts to feed him homemade, organic, whole foods slathered in butter and olive oil. Throughout his babyhood, I often left the doctor’s office crying, after rattling off my list of “good mom” reasons he should not be so little, wondering why my home-made purees and breast feeding didn’t seem to be growing him any faster. The words Failure to thrive haunted me. So, every meal his entire life has consisted of some kind of negotiation or battle. Every meal.
Of course, beginning preschool brought a new stress into the breakfast negotiations because we were on a set timeline for the first time in his life. And yet, this free little spirit still acted as he always had, twirling on his bench even though I told him ten times a meal not to twirl because he often fell off and hurt himself, playing with his food, talking to his brother who chortled at everything he did. . . everything but eat!!!! And I started out patient. But, when the child began eating at 7:30 am and had barely made a dent in his oatmeal one hour later, I started to panic. And, then, Momzilla emerged.
I lost my pleases and thank-you’s and the low, kind voice I greeted him with every morning. I entertained fantasies of shoving his mouth full of oatmeal. I took deep breaths and asked God to help me not let it come to that. I spoke louder. He still sat on his bench, looking at me like “there she goes again . . .” The baby laughed, thinking it was all a new breakfast joke routine. 8:31. There were only fourteen more minutes left until we had to leave, fourteen more minutes to change a flibbertygibbit, who would now be uncooperative because, alas, he did not eat his breakfast. And, how could I unleash an unbreakfasted child on those sweet preschool teachers? He would turn on them–for sure–after being awake for hours and eating nothing substantial. We would be known as the late family, ushering the last preschooler through an already closed door. The teachers would frown, labeling the Arthurs the problem family of three-year-old Tuesday and Thursday mornings. I would be known as that mom who could never get her kid to school on time. That mom. As if by accident, I became so worked up over the idea of Abraham getting in trouble at preschool and me being that mom that I found myself screaming: “Get on your clothes! Sit still! We’re late!”
As I was losing my mind that morning, screaming, wondering when my own head was going to start spinning around in a 360 degree demonic fashion, a thought struck me: this has nothing to do with what’s happening right now.
I stopped. I looked at their little, shocked faces, trying to figure out why their sweet Mama had turned into a raging lunatic.
And I asked myself this:
Why are you doing this? Why are you so worked up? Five years from now, who will remember this morning?
Funny thing: I know five years from now, it will be a miracle if his preschool teachers will be able to remember our names if we bump into them in a different context. Five years from now, I will not remember this morning. But five years from now, their character and spirits will reflect the choices I make today. The choice to be patient, to be late instead of raging, to be kind instead of having my makeup on, will reflect in who they are as people.
When I forget that loving these little faces is my most important job in this moment, that my actions toward them should not be reflective of my past frustrations or my future fears, I allow love to transcend everything else. Maybe my kid’s a slow eater. Maybe we’re late a lot. But really? In the big scheme of things? Who cares?
He’s fabulous in a million ways. He’s the most miraculous piece of Rainbow I’ve ever known. I choose to love him, to be patient with him, even as I am ever trying to find new ways to make him eat faster. And guess what? Two years later, he can just now eat his dinner in one half an hour. Progress, people: slow and steady.
So, I don’t know if your kid eats like a turtle or screams endlessly (we went through that) or hits every other kid smaller than him at every party you go to (yup, we’ve done that, too). And if you’re like me at all, I know how it feels to want to crawl under the carpet and hide as you assure all the other parents that screaming/throwing food or tantrums/hitting other kids is not acceptable in your family and won’t be tolerated and you’re sooooo sorry that your kid just pooped on their carpet (yup). But in the end, that face will matter long after that party full of people’s opinions. And that face will remember and reflect my behavior for the rest of his life.
As for this failing and sometimes still screaming Mama, I would rather my family say that I was patient than punctual. I would rather them know love than all the worldly success of those kids I never understood that win the “no tardiness” award at the end of the school year.
May we be the Tardy Artys, patiently and kindly standing in line at the school office waiting for our late slips. May I ever choose to exchange my fear, pride, and anger for a child grown in love.
Trying, reaching, ever-failing and exulting in God’s grace,