I was making dinner last week while Jack (3) played in the backyard. I realize how idyllic and normal that sentence sounds, but let me assure you, it is loaded. Jack is a wildling. An explorer to the core; an adventurous limit-pusher who generally does not adhere to reason. I’m struggling with the words to adequately convey this child’s personality, but I trust this story will help: a few months ago at the zoo, I pulled Jack out of the alligator exhibit by his feet.
The kid gives me frequent heart palpitations, and maybe there’s no causation here, but I’m just saying that my scalp had not sprouted a single gray until he began crawling, and now I have at least 17.
Anyway, I’m chopping onions, looking up every 15 seconds to make sure that Jack is not choking on a grasshopper, scaling the pool fence or, you know, spontaneously combusting. Glancing up from my cutting board again, expecting to find my dirt-covered boy playing with sticks in the grass, what do I see? Sticks, grass…no Jack. He’s just absent from where he was standing 15 seconds ago. Gone. I search the left side of the yard and then the right before ditching the onions and running after my precious, heart attack inducing Houdini.
I’m standing in the backyard, exactly where Jack was in the middle of the lawn, and he is nowhere. Three new gray hairs sprout. The gate to the front yard is latched but now I’m transforming into a super-hardcore Liam Neeson a la Taken, convinced Jack has been abducted by creepy Euro gangsters. (Rational idea, myself.) Before hastily purchasing a plane ticket to Albania, I see flickers of a small figure moving between the fence posts just behind our yard. You guys, Jack had found a loose fence post, moved it to the side and just walked through it. This fence backs up to a small vacant field and then a super busy street, with cars whooshing by at lightning speeds. I moved the loose post to the side and stared at my small blonde boy, who stared back at me. My eyes must have looked like they were going to pop out of my head, because he immediately said, “Sorry, Mom!” before running back through the opening and into our yard.
I mean…How do I stop the gray with a kid like this????????????? Does Clairol have a frequent buyer punch card? Because I need one.
I heard a Focus on the Family podcast a few years ago right around the time Jack was born (I’m convinced the timing here is no coincidence). On the podcast, some parents with grown children were talking about how specifically God designed people. Take, for example, our hands. They are crafted carefully. We can test the temperature of food, or check baby’s head for a fever. We use the same hands to dry tears and spank defiant bottoms (just keeping it real). And they are shaped perfectly for cradling a nursing baby’s head. So specifically did He design our hands for the tasks they would meet. How much more specifically did God design my personality to pair with my child’s? He knows my strengths and weaknesses, He knows where I need sharpening and refining. He knows that my son requires a specific type of patience and steadfastness to parent him daily. And He chose me – in spite of me lacking this very patience and steadfastness – to be his mama. To love him, train him up and walk along side this sticky, bouncy wildling. He chose me for Jack, and Jack for me.
In the last three years, Jack has knocked down a few parenting rules I made for myself pre-kids. (Hypothetical parenting is always adorable after you actually have kids, isn’t it?) Before I had children, I remember watching kids run amok or scream their faces off in public and I’d think, “Wow, you should really control your child.” Then I had kids, and now I get it. You can’t “control your child.” You just do your best. You love your kids, parent consistently and even then you fail. Sometimes you’re exhausted, defeated and just hope your mistakes didn’t cause any permanent damage.
Parenting Jack is like going to a personal trainer. But I have weak, puny muscles. So it’s going to hurt. God uses this feisty, wild little person to expose my atrophied or non-existent character muscles. And just when I think I’ve nailed it on my patience issues, we launch into the parenting equivalent of high-intensity intervals. Jack hits a new milestone, develops new quirks, FRACTURES HIS FIBULA*, and I’m left to stretch a little more, acutely aware that I’m already stretched to capacity.
Sometimes I think it’s hilarious that God planned for our three kids to be born within three years of each other. Because I find myself humbled and at my wit’s end all. the. time. And yet He did it on purpose. Every day I encounter dozens of areas of my life where I just can’t keep up: A dirt-rock launched in the kitchen, scattered into a million tiny dirt clumps on my newly-steamed floors; seven loads of laundry finally done – and then they all decide to go puddle-jumping; three tantrum-ing toddlers at Costco, disapproving looks abounding. How will I survive this?
These are the workouts, my friends. These are the intervals. The stretching, the molding, the pain and pressing on when I want to just sit it out. Can you relate? We are in the thick of this motherhood thing, and you know what? We can do it. Because He put us here on purpose. He matched us with our precious babes, their ages, their strong wills, adventurous little hearts and all. He is refining us through them. Let’s run this race. Let’s go with the pain and maybe by the time they move out we will all look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Or something.)
Do you ever find your littles stretching your capacity for patience, self-control, joy, kindness, forgiveness? This is our race. Let’s just focus on today, putting one foot in front of the other and I truly believe that one day we will look down at our character-abs and be all like, “Dang! When did I get that six-pack o’patience?” Let’s do this.
* It should be noted that I started drafting this blog post just days before Jack FRACTURED HIS FIBULA jumping off of the coffee table. God is hilarious.