Last weekend I was with my kids and parents at beautiful Pine Cove in East Texas for a church retreat. On Saturday afternoon, Ellie and I were “resting” in the room. I was on the bed finishing “All Joy No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting“ by Jennifer Senior in preparation for the “Parent with PURPOSE” discussions this week. (Join me for the one tomorrow, Friday morning! more details and RSVP) As I was reading the last chapter on finding “Joy”, I experienced one of those moments of passive observation when we witness our children being uninhibitedly and fully themselves…a moment of well, joy! I heard Ellie happily making up a song about the friend she had played with that afternoon. Her essence of childlike joy was transparent as she sang, “Rory Kate, R——ry Ka———ate“, and laid out her new “Frozen” panties, happily studying the pics of Olaf, Elsa, and Ana on the white cotton. (Oh, she had left her suitcase in Dallas, so there was a Wal-mart run.) I set the book aside on the bed to quietly watch and listen, smiling and putting that moment into my Mommy-heart, into my “remembering self”. (More on this at our talk…clue: it’s the reason we keep procreating.)
Little did I know that the Universe (and Ellie) were about to remind me of the “No FUN” part of the parenting equation! Just minutes after finishing the last chapter, I found myself engaged in an hour-long battle with Ellie to take a nap, items and unkind words being flung across the room towards me from the top bunk. Before all the misbehavior, I was gonna let her just rest happily in the bed, but after a couple of warnings, Mommy declared that napping would happen before she left the room again. This resulted in an angry backlash that was further proof that, yes, the girl needed sleep to recharge her brain, attitude, and store of self-control. And, Lord knows, the mommy did, too. Somehow I managed to keep my cool, and ended up holding her kicking, fussing, fighting body tight until she relaxed, gave in, and fell asleep in my arms, on top of my body, under her blanket, baby doll clutched in her hand, both of us exhausted, but finally in a state of peace. This moment of “grace” came only after she had made those long minutes as “non-FUN” as possible: screaming in her “bloody-murder”, red-faced voice for all at the retreat attendees to hear, “You’re hurting me!” (I may have wanted to, but I wasn’t!) Calling me “stupid” (another word we do NOT use in our family), and threatening, “If you don’t leave this family, then I will.” Hmmmm…no comment. NO FUN!
I was left wondering how I’m supposed to survive these awful “Mommy and me” adventures, and feeling very worried about this little fire-pistol’s teenage years…(oh, and wishing I could score a margarita!) But the book I’d just read was full of other parents’ real-life stories like mine that reminded me that I wasn’t alone. In it, the author quotes C. S. Lewis who said, “There is something in each of us that cannot be naturally loved. Every child is infuriating; most children are not infrequently odious.” That just makes me laugh, AND feel better! And as long as I keep loving my little Ellie-girl (and her not infrequently odious big brother), I am being a “good enough” mother – I DON’T have to like them all the time.
Children give us a chance to be our best selves: to love unconditionally. It takes effort to love generously. But on our best days, we’re able to overlook these imperfections and love our children with only their best interests in mind.
In the end, she slept for 2 hours, and I had a little time for some quiet deep breaths on the shore of the lake with a cup of coffee before getting back to the joys and “no funs” of parenting. (And after apologizing and receiving forgiveness and an “I can handle whatever you do because I love you through and through!”, a more cheerful and cooperative Ellie got to stay up late and have a s’more!)