Tuesday, February 17, 2015

lemonade grace

Parenting is a non-stop lesson in tough grace.  We give it our all; sleepless nights, umpiring fights, vomit-covered sights.  We Dr. Seuss and brush teeth and play chauffeur and stock up on fruit snacks, goldfish, and tubes of yogurt as though preparing for the end of times.  It's hard and exhausting and rewarding and amazing all in the same breath.  It's tough.  And we don't give ourselves enough credit.  We don't allow ourselves to realize we need a bit of slack grace.

Parents are comparative and competitive.  We place high expectations on our little ones, other parents' little ones, and other parents as well.  This leads to massive amounts of judgement.  Hell hath no fury than a mom who watches another mom parent her child in a way that differs from her own beliefs.  The Superbowl ad where a gaggle of parents are gathered at the playground, ready to go head-to-head to defend their singular {and, let's be honest, petty} beliefs?  Yeah...it's a jungle out there.

But I find that the harshest of all critics isn't the other parents out there, who catch a mere snapshot of my day while I'm sack carrying my screaming preschooler down the aisle at Target, and decide I'm an unfit mother.

No, no.  The meanest and most judgy person I face each and every day is the one staring back at me in the mirror.  On the toughest of days, not only do I find myself sinking deep into the soft bags under my eyes, nestling into the wrinkles, and wallowing in the stretch marks; but I climb into my mind, capture the not-so-great moments of the day, and push 'play-repeat'.  Evaluating my actions and the responses of my children like an NFL coach reviewing film after a disappointing loss.  But rather than make notes for improvement, I sink deeper and deeper into the dark place of 'bad mommy'.  I pop some popcorn, pull on comfy sweats, and pout about how I reacted horribly to a situation.  I mourn the forlorn look upon my childrens' faces as they hear my snappy-toned, less-than-graceful rant.  I dig a little pit of self pity, dive down deep, and wait.

Usually I don't wait long though; as children's tears and looks of disappointment are kryptonite,  I've got to do what it takes to get rid of them, before their power renders me completely useless.  So I apologize.  Genuine, hand-holding, eye-contact apologies that almost always include the phrase mommy is trying hard to be better.

And I am.  I really, really am trying to be better.  I can't say that I know a whole lot of people who aren't striving to be better, people who walk this planet completely satisfied with every component of their lives as well as themselves.  It's human nature to strive for more--and that includes for ourselves.  We want to better ourselves--financially, physically, professionally, and relationally.

But then there are these seasons of parenting, like the present one for instance, where I feel that I'm spending the better part of my day apologizing.  To my kids, to myself, to God.  My actions are too much--over dramatized and irrational--or they're not enough--withdrawn and uninvolved.  I volley back and forth in this lose-lose space, like a table tennis game between Hannibal Lecter and the hunter who killed Bambi's mother.  Neither is worth cheering for.

But it's funny, the way God works.  Even when I'm smack-dab in the middle of my self-deprecating pity party, He shows up to remind me of His grace.  The 'stuff'' I won't give myself because I've been 'that mom' one-too-many times. He gives it willingly without merit--and in the most unsuspecting ways, from the most unsuspecting people; the ones who are more often than not, the people who are witness to victims of my less-than-graceful mommy/wife/self moments.

Like when I'm on the highway.  Driving 60 mph {ok...maybe it was closer to 70...}.  And I hear a tiny voice behind me say, "Moooommmm...dis seat is awwlll wetttt!".  Bathroom accident?  No, no...I would have actually preferred that.  Instead, the {formerly nearly full} styrofoam cup of lemonade, indignantly carried from the restaurant despite my request to leave it behind so as to avoid situations such as the one I was experiencing at that very moment, had 'magically' sprung a leak, and had relocated its contents in the back seat of my vehicle.  Joy.

A slew of questions, peppered with a few less-than-savory words flew from my mouth before I could even capture the thoughts.  Through a burst of tears, an answer.

The culprit?  Oh, that's easy.  It wasn't the 'frustwated' preschooler who angrily shoved her straw through the side of the cup when she discovered that despite her super-awesome display of shriek/howl/whine disturbing the peace, she was *not* in fact going to get the toy she so desperately desired.  No, no.  That would be too easy.

No...the *real* reason the booster seat was now a soaked lemonade sponge was "dat sharp straw!".  Obvi.

Now the thing is when my sensory-sensitive child complains of something *askew* in her sensory world, it's in my best interest to attend to that request, or reap the awesome reward of a round of shriek/howl/whine disturbing the peace--only *this time*, you're strapped into the seat of a moving vehicle.  My only escape from the hell that would soon ensue was to utilize the shoulder of the highway, where I carefully removed the car seat from the back after discovering that not one, but both cup holders were filled to the brim with sticky, sweet annoyance.

I must have looked mildly deranged to my fellow highway companions as I violently overturned the booster to expel the lemonade, then yanked off the fabric covering so I could squeeze out as much as possible so my 'precious preschooler' would not be triggered by the sensation of wetness.

I felt the whirlwind of nerves and fear and rushing wind of passing cars, all while my three-nearly-four year old daughter sat on the other side of the car; sobbing into her knees, which are drawn up and encircled by her precious little princess shirt-clad arms.  And why was she sobbing?

I wish I could say "dat sharp straw", just as she had, but alas, it was more like "mom's sharp tongue"...and let's leave it at that.

As my lemonade rant ended, and as much of the liquid as possible had been sprayed back on to me, and the outside of my vehicle during my tantrum {funny, God.}, I settled both her and I into our seats, re-buckled, and exhaled slowly.

The guilt.  The self-loathing.  The disappointment.

I mean, she's three.  Three itty bitty years old.  A walking perpetual time bomb of spills, messes, skinned knees, and marker-covered body parts.

I glanced into my rearview mirror, fully expecting my tear rimmed eyes to be equally matched to my tiny counterpart; only to be surprised by sparkling eyes and a giant smile.  I turned around {I had yet to begin driving...}, and reached out to find a tiny little hand, fully ready to apologize.  Before the words formed in my throat, I found grace.  In that tiny little hand, I found grace.  A single purple flower, {plucked earlier from the shopping center landscaping, despite my request to leave them alone} paired with the words, "dis is for you, mama...I love you!".

Heart explode.


That simple.  No 'toughness', no struggle, no comparing...just a completely unmerited act of kindness and forgiveness and 'betterness'.  God gave Raegan this intense desire to experience life so fully that she needs to capture it; pluck it from a professionally landscaped garden, against all social cues; and extend it as an olive branch.

Just as quickly as the parents in the advertisement overcame their difference for a common cause; Raegan decided to bridge the gap, patch the wound, forgive the words; even before I had a chance to utter them.  Grace.  Easy as that.

grace.  {and dat sharp straw}

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