In Which I'm the Bad Mom at the Park
The whole mess probably started with overly-high expectations. (I've found most of my parenting meltdowns do.) It was a gorgeous Seattle day with no plans weighing it down and no pregnancy exhaustion holding me back. I heaved Annika's little bike into the back of our SUV and headed to a perfect neighborhood park. Even Banjo was invited, that's how confident I felt.
Annika had recently gotten the hang of riding a bike and she could ride like a boss now. Long distances, sharp curves, rainy days - she loved it all. And this perfect park had a perfect sidewalk loop next to the swings where she could ride her heart out and I could stroll behind with a well-behaving Banjo on leash.
But- enter the unexpected problem: a hill. A bump, really. A tiny incline on one side of the loop and the tiny decline on the other side. We reached the top and Annika hit the brakes so fast that Banjo ran into her.
"I can't do the hill," she said.
I sighed. "Can't" gets annoying. "You totally can," I smiled, and tried to give her a little push.
But the little push was offensive and horrible to her, she got mad at me and backed up even more. "I can't" quickly turned into "I won't" and the outing that felt so light and free was suddenly weighing on my nerves like a traffic jam.
See... this is a recurrent thing between the two of us. This "fear" conversation. My one-two-three-GO approach to a challenge versus her sense of extreme caution and nervousness. I've seen it completely paralyze her and either rob her of joy (a tall slide, for example) or create a terrible scene (like getting a shot). And sometimes its so nonsensical that I can't help but laugh (like how she refuses to sit on a toilet with an auto-flushing sensor) and then she feels insulted and I have to apologize and discuss again the total safety of flushing toilets.
But we weren't getting anywhere with a discussion about the safety of coasting down this particular "hill." She wanted to dismount and walk the bike until the trail was completely flat again. I wanted her to find her courage, trust her own ability and put some faith in my promises.
Neither of us were budging.
The sun was burning my pale Seattlite flesh, Banjo was pulling the leash after a squirrel, and Michael was shoving his foot deep in my ribcage as I bent over her little bike. I can't make any promises that my tone of voice was kind or patient.
So I gave her an ultimatum: ride down the hill (with me right beside you) or we put the bike in the car and don't haul it to parks for a while. "Because the earth is not flat and parks have hills and I'm not dragging this bicycle around town for you to not actually ride it."
She was on drama-maximum-high, crying and pleading for bicycle rights but refusing to make a decision.
"Fine. Let's just put the bike away," I'd say.
"Then come on, let's go down the hill together."
It was about this time that I noticed another mom was watching, had been watching, from a not-so-subtle distance. She half smiled when I caught her eye but not in a sweet, sympathetic way. It was forced and read "I have thoughts about this."
My first thought- Greeeeat. She's probably a blogger. You're welcome for the material, lady! I'm sure it will be lovely and all about gentle parenting and encouragement over criticism and picking your battles. Feel free to tag me when you tweet it.
My second thought- You know what, though? Maybe this is a battle that I'm picking. Maybe this is worth it.
I straightened my back, tried to rub the Braxton Hicks out of my left side, smiled sweetly (or "sweetly", unfortunately) and just made the call. We put the bike in the car, hugged on a bench for a while and then I pushed her on the swings until going home.
It was a decent ending, but it plagued me for days afterward.
I berated myself for being too hard on her and ruining her confidence and making her feel like a failure. And then I defended myself for wanting to shape her long-term character instead of simply averting short-term meltdowns. "I don't want her to create habits of avoiding anything that frightens or intimidates...I don't want her to miss opportunities for joy and freedom because she is afraid of risk." And then I spy on her while she plays quietly in her room and my heart melts with regret because I just feel so hugely aware of her tender, sensitive heart. And how young she still is.
Finally, the jury in my head quieted enough that I could hear some counsel from the Holy Spirit. It simply dawned on me... how many second chances have you had, little one?
Oh yeah. I hadn't really thought about that. About God and his parenting process toward me. How he certainly teaches hard lessons and lets me fall and flail and fail but how he never ever says Game Over. He never takes away my chance to try again... to start completely over.
So I scooped her up in my arms that very night at bedtime and asked her if she remembered our talk at the park, about the bike and the hill. She nodded. I told her again about fear and not letting it control your choices, about trusting me, about trusting herself. But then I apologized and told her it was wrong for me to say she couldn't try again, for as many times as she wanted. I told her how patient God is with us and how he reminds of his promises and waits for us to trust them so we can finally know how good he is.
We will take your bike to the park and you can ride to the top of that big hill again and again and again. And it may seem scary every time. And every time I will say that you are safe and that you can trust me and that you can do it without falling. And every time you might decide not to try. And I might get frustrated but you can remind me to be patient with you. And I will choose to be patient because I know that one day you will get to the top of the hill and feel different. Maybe it will look just a little bit smaller because you have gotten bigger or maybe just braver but one day you will decide to ride down the hill. And then you'll feel a little wind in your hair and you'll hear me cheering for you and the hill will be behind you. And then you'll know that you can trust me and you can do hard things, even when they are scary. But until then, we will just keep going to the top of the hill. I'll go with you for as many times as it takes.
I looked down at her. She was asleep, of course. I tucked her in and flipped off the light and finally felt a nod in my own Spirit about the whole thing. And even weeks later I'd listen to a friend, much more seasoned in these parenting trials, talk about inhibition versus action and helping our kids to find that sweet spot between the two. So all I can do is keep urging her on toward that place.
But I'm not always a sweet, gentle, patient mother so I know (without a doubt) that I will sometimes loathe dragging that little bike to the same dang park over and over again, always expecting that fear will dominate her and she will back down. And I'll feel a twinge of disappointment as she climbs down and walks her bike safely to the flat, un-exciting sidewalk. But I'll keep asking God for the wisdom to see her like he sees me, with infinite love and unconditional acceptance. And perhaps just a bit of his perfect patience.
And I know that I'll fail, but he'll hang in there with me - for as many times as it takes.
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