Once upon a time, you were tiny and sweet and snuggly and wrapped very tightly in a blanket. I could wrap my arms around you and you would smile up at me, and that rise of joy in my heart was enough to make me think it would always be this way.
But now you are larger. You are louder and stronger willed, and my efforts to wrap you tightly in my arms are met, not with smiles, but with thrashing. Another kind of rise happens in my heart, and this one isn’t very pleasant. Not pleasant at all.
My dear, screaming child, who are you?
I know I have about 25 years on you, but the way you kick and scream and throw yourself on the ground? That’s how I feel too, deep in my heart, when you test me. It’s taking me every ounce of patience to not throw any sense of maturity out the window and join you down there on the floor. And how would that look in the middle of Michael’s, with those two old ladies who have been following us around the store watching my every move? That’s the difference between you and me at this moment. I have to think about the old ladies.
I’ll be honest, honey, you wear me right out. I don’t even know how you have the energy to fight me on everything, but it’s never ending. It’s like you have a direct line to some mysterious life source – a nectar that is unfazed, pulsing, fluorescent and buzzing. Is it possible you’re not human? Is it possible you’ve been sent to test me to my limits, to stretch me thin, to push all the buttons you know of, only to transform at the last second into the sweetest, most loving and affectionate person around? There are days I wonder.
And there are days I marvel at how the raw humanness that comes out of you, the uncultivated and unlearned parts, the core of will and independence and selfishness and immaturity that is so common and expected in you because you simply don’t know yet, brings out the same in me. I’m appalled at the way my reactions are so quick to revert to that raw selfishness and immaturity, even though I should have put all of that ugliness to rest inside of me.
Dear child, my real question is, how is it that your tantrums are really a mirror to my soul?
And now I am faced with the gritty decision. The one that is almost as hard for me to make as it is impossible for you to understand. To silence the rise boiling in my chest and show you what it means to overcome – not overcome you, overcome me. To swallow the outburst and teach you that self control is a teeth-grinding hard choice and not a trait we are born with. To soften my response to demonstrate that ugliness is not about the way we look on the outside but about the overflow of our hearts, and the way we vomit all over other people shows us more about who we are than it does about how we feel. And as I look at you giving strength to the fullness of these emotions, I am softened. Not because I’m tired, but because I realize I can’t leave you this way. To walk away from this and leave you to your own devices would be a cruel punishment, harsher than any I could give you, because I would be letting that immaturity and ugliness and selfishness take root in your heart.
So I use the same words over and over and we go through the same steps over and over, doing this dance together that goes in circles and never seems to get anywhere. But as I look back, straining to see any progress and any changes, I see that things have changed. I see parts of my own selfishness shed on the floor, small parts of my own immaturity and ugliness strewn behind us, like they were thrown off in a struggle to the death. And though more still clings tightly to me, I see that the shedding has become part of our dance, and that you, sweet baby, are starting to do it too.