Happily Even After
Grace: Variations on a Theme
by Josh Noem
Sometimes, I don’t know what to make of parenting. In the span of a day, I can go from triumph to despair.
For example: Simon, our middle child at 5 years old, started swimming lessons with little Lucy. He likes to wear a spandex beach shirt when he gets in the water. He’s had it for two summers now and it was getting stretched out. I thought it would get in the way of him learning arm-circles, so I left it at home.
That was a mistake that turned into a class 4 meltdown.
I’ve said before that Simon is like Chinese finger handcuffs—the harder you pull to get your fingers out, the tighter it gets. Missing the shirt for swim lessons was a non-starter for Simon, a no-go, and no matter how I negotiated with him, the light in his eyes just got dimmer and dimmer.
I had to physically pull his clothes off of him and fish him into his trunks and walk him poolside to join his class. He was in tears the whole way, and refused to respond to his teacher. He simply sat there and whimpered.
I tried empathy, substitution ideas, warning consequences. I tried everything in the book, and not a budge.
We had to throw in the towel, and chalk it up to a missed day. I did get Simon to approach his teacher and apologize and promise to do better next time, and it at least felt good to end the trauma on a high note of praise for him to accomplish that.
Mind you, all of this took place on the pool deck, for public consumption.
In the past, the fact that others were watching would be a significant stressor for me. In the middle of it, however, I just took a deep breath and realized that this is one of those moments that everyone has as a parent. I recalled that any parent watching has walked in these shoes. There is no shame in working through a meltdown, I told myself.
Less than 24 hours later, Simon turns to me at lunch time with a sweet milk-mustachioed smile—genuinely happy—and thanked me for lunch and added, “it was really good,” even though it was the same, standard peanut-butter and honey sandwich that seemingly comprises 80% of his diet.
It made me feel like a million bucks.
So, I don’t know where that leaves me. I think I’d just like to know what kind of a story I’m in. Sometimes it feels like an epic struggle, other times a quirky comedy. If I knew what was coming around the corner, I’d hunker down and really get to work. As it is, I’m getting high fastballs mixed with curveballs down and away. The mystery keeps me on my toes.
I suppose I can only describe it as grace. Obviously, the milk mustache moments are grace, but if I so name those experiences, I think I also have to chalk up the meltdowns as grace, too. Both are examples of God calling me outside of myself.
If I wallow in embarrassment and disappointment at a meltdown, the carnage gets catastrophic. If I swallow the glory of a sweet smile, thinking I earned it, the fizzle turns flat.
What else can I do but throw up my hands and turn it over to God?
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