April of 2007:
I needed a reminder of why I bother to be a mommy. It was a hard, terrible day, full of tears, anger, and tantrums. After picking up the house, I journeyed through my picture archives to find the child who I adore. I did NOT adore her today. I remembered the way I felt when I first saw her, the way she felt in my arms, the smile that spread across my face when she giggled for the first time. I remembered the hugs and kisses and they way she smells when she gets out of the bath. I love that child and she is a gift. All the warm memories helped me calm down, go and give my sleeping baby a kiss and then go to bed myself, thankful we made it through the day.
It all started many hours earlier when she got into the flour container in the kitchen while I was upstairs working on a project. She dumped the full container of flour on the floor after and she threw flour all over the bills. She also found a pan I had soaking with water in the sink. The water joined the flour on the floor and when I heard a splash, I came running. The sight I took in was complete disaster. The child herself was coated in paste, from head to bare feet and she looked quite guilty as I surveyed the piles of flour and puddles of water. I squeaked out, "Go to the bathroom and wash," as I stood in angry silence staring at the mess that lay before me. How was I going to clean up 5 pounds of wet flour?
As the reality soaked in, I realized the water was still running in the bath room and I heard Emma singing, "Clean-up, clean-up....". I went to the bath room to find her elbow deep in a sink plugged by wet toilet paper and water. She had emptied the roll in to the sink and was spreading the glops on her arms, over the four and water paste. Very, very angry, I drew a bath, wiped off the wet toilet paper from her body, scraped the pasted clothes off and put her in the bath. The strict instructions I gave her in the nice warm bubble bath were to stay put, clean off, and play while I cleaned up the mess in the kitchen.
I went to get the shop vac and began sucking up the disaster. A bit later, I heard the pitter-patter of wet feet come running and I looked up as Emma, naked and clean, came slipping onto the pasty kitchen floor. She fell on her back into the flour paste. I scooped her up and hauled her to her room. As I was finding clothes to put on her again dirty body, she peed on the floor.
I lost it. I was SO angry. I cleaned up the mess and this time gave her strict instructions to stay in her room. I cleaned up the kitchen through my tears of frustration. By that time, the flour and water were drying into a crust and I scrubbed and scrubbed. It was hard work and all I wanted to do was run and hide and have my mother come clean up this mess. Well, I am the mommy now. It is my child, my child's mess, my anger, and my problem to cry to God about.
Emma's toddler years and beyond were full of stories like this. She was a trifecta of defiance:
- Speech delay (so she couldn't communicate her needs/wants/desires)
- Iron will (stubborn doesn't adequately describe it)
- Sneaky and quiet
Her fits were legendary. Her messes were endless and constant. It couldn't seem to watch her close enough, she was in to everything. As she got older, her behavior seemed motivated by what pushed mommy's buttons. And boy, did she push my buttons. Emma had to do EVERYTHING herself and was a fashion diva from birth -- it was her way or the screaming way. We fought, cried, and scraped along from about 15 months to 4 (or more) years old.
I was very strict with her and battled every point. I let her know who was boss and we fed off of each other's stubbornness.
Looking back, I wish I some things differently.
- More good attention! More snuggling, even though she didn't appear to appreciate it. More affirmation on the things she excelled at (just because she couldn't talk didn't mean she didn't need my positive words).
- Less discipline when I was mad. I excellerated and exacerbated the situation with my temper and spanking her when I was high on frustration. Her temper made mine even worse and my attitude of "I WILL win this battle" was missing the point.
- Said "yes" more often. Saying "yes" instead of "no" requires a lot more listening. It also requires a lot more thought to make sure I'm not being manipulated, maintaining control, but also being kind and attentive to my child's wants/needs/desires. Picking battles instead of picking fights. For example, when I put her to bed, she often begged for one more book and I said "no" because I said, "Only one book tonight" in the first place. I wish I would have said, "You are right, we are having a lot of fun. Let's pick one more really special book and then sing a song. What song do you want to sing after this book?" Keeping one step ahead of her and keeping her thinking would have ended so many tantrums before they even started.
- Communicated more clearly. Again, with Emma's speech delay, I often stayed silent because I assumed she didn't have anything she wanted to talk about. I now realize she emotionally needed more communication. She needed to hear what our day was going to be like and what was expected from her. I read in " Raising Your Spirited Child" that all children, especially spirited ones, want to know what to expect and they feel vulnerable when things are unfamiliar. We were having such a horrible time leaving any place fun when Emma was small. 100% of the time, I ended up hauling her to the car kicking and screaming. After I read that book, I changed my tactic and talked to Emma about what was going on, what would happen when we needed to leave, what we were doing after we left, how I expected her to act, and the consequence if she threw a fit. "Do you understand?" I would ask her in the car as we drove.
I started changing my parenting when Mandy came along and I realized that what I was doing wasn't working. I had less time, a needy baby, a needy toddler, and I was at the end of my rope. I prayed for wisdom, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault. And when he asks, he should believe and not doubt. Because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind" (James 1:6-7). This was and is my favorite passage. Actually, all of the book of James speaks to me, but these verses meet me where I'm at. I don't have the answers, God does and He's willing to share!
By asking for more wisdom, I was far more receptive to other people's ideas. Normally I would dismiss any parenting tip because I figured it didn't apply to my child -- no one had ever encountered a child as difficult as her! (or so I thought). There is usually a merit of truth in well-meant advice. I sought out older, wise parents and asked for help. I learned so much about teaching, training and especially discipling my child.
When she got older (like over 3 or so), I thought, "She's old enough to control her anger by now!" She was still having terrible fits, even into this last year. Her angry outbursts have nearly all disappeared since I've gained control over my own anger! Had someone told me that was the key 4 years ago, I would have vehemently denied it. Children are fantastic mimics of their parents, whether they are admirable characteristics or not. I hope to continue teaching Emma how to deal with life's normal frustrations in a healthy, non-destructive way. Being controlled by anger robs us of joy.
Even though those days during her trying years seems to crawl by, time still flew and my baby girl turned 6 years old yesterday. You wouldn't recognize this ray of sunshine from reading the post I wrote in 2007. Even Emma can't believe the naughty things she did when I tell her the stories. We have long talks about her behavior and I can't tell you how it blesses my heart when she says, "I want to obey you so I can obey God." I am immensely proud of her.
I'm teaching her at home this year and she delights in learning as long as it is what she wants to learn. Her stubbornness hasn't taken a hike, but seeing it turn to diligence is a worthwhile goal. Emma's favorite subject is by far math. She excels at it and is almost finished with an A Beka math book that I assumed would take us all year to complete.
Learning to read is a challenge for her and learning the sounds of the letters is still impacted by her speech delay. Her brain doesn't process the different sounds, so "b," "d" and "e" all sound the same. A friend of mine in a special ed teacher and did a few assessments with Emma. My teacher friend has been a huge source of advice and encouragement to me. We're working hard and Emma is making progress, wanting to read SO badly.
Compassion, generosity, and kindness are Emma's strongest characteristics and she constantly brings me joy with her thoughtfulness. She's my little gift giver and nearly has a panic attack if I tell her it is someone's birthday and we don't have a gift for them, "We have to go to the store. We have to make something. We HAVE to do SOMETHING!" Emma is constantly finding things at the store that someone else would really love. Mind you, occasionally her ideas are selfishly motivated like making sure we always have dad's favorite cookies (Oreos) in the house -- she knows dad will share.
I made so many mistakes. But thankfully, we came through those hard years stronger. I'm incredibly honored to be this little girl's mother. God is good to allow me to bumble through this job of raising her. I'm grateful for his ever sufficient grace.