And so it begins. We’ve arrived for a stint in a fine little town that I’m told all toddlers pass through.
Oh, joy. More often than I care to admit, I am finding myself standing alone in the laundry room. Door shut. Just me, the hampers, the whirring of the dryer, and thirty soul-sweet seconds of gathering my wits. And let’s be honest: Thirty seconds of beseeching.
Dear God, have mercy.
Loan me some of your patience while we’re waylaid here. Mommy’s run low on munitions.
Let our stay be brief.
The most recent Event took place in Cracker Barrel, just this past weekend. We’d finished a fairly mellow dinner of Reubens, chicken tenders, and, much to Patrick’s delight: chocolate milk sipped through a big-boy straw.
It was a good meal, all around, largely thanks to four under-pigmented crayons and one of those triangle brainteasers stabbed with golf tees. Patrick had been cheerful, and had kept things relatively clean, minus the small lake of chocolate milk beneath his high chair. Really, overall, a solid dining-in-public performance.
As we pile our plates and get up to leave, my husband and I are beaming. I swing Patrick’s sweet little hand and head toward the register in the attached gift shop. We are such good parents, I think, as evidenced by our docile progeny, the one gently fisting my finger.
And then it happens. Blinded by our parental pride, maybe our sated stomachs, we see a display of toy cars. And, well, he’s been so good. Why not? Let’s give ‘em a look.
And so we do. Chumps that we are, we make the classic beginner move, squatting down and inspecting a couple vehicles, even making the “vrrrmm, vrrrrmmm” engine effects. I flip one of the coupes over, scan for the sticker. $9.99. Too much, especially since they’re not built to suffer two-year-old play. After a few more minutes, we make beginner move number two: We tell Patrick it’s time to go.
Evil parents that we are, we ask him to park the cars back into the bin.
You can probably imagine the mayhem, the barbaric injustice of it all, as we fail to coax him away. I take his hand, give a gentle pull toward the door, and he suddenly loses his spine. Like it’s been yanked out. He wet-noodles to the floor, a human puddle. So I scoop him up. And the moment I do, he springs to life, legs kicking off me like a Bandalooper against a building.
“Patrick, you have dozens of cars back home,” I announce. Like maybe logic will prevail. I say it overly loud, so passersby know there’s a real impetus (however tiny) behind this tirade.
My arms are insufficient, so I hand him to my husband. We are a moving circus with an angry acrobat, all the way to the car. We pop the door, trying to wiggle the kid into his seat, but alas: He’s deployed his third and final tantrum trick, Stiff as a Board. He’s a steel beam, and we can’t get him to bend at the belly. Which means we can’t snap the buckle. Which means the mom and two kids whose vehicle, as luck would have it, is parked right next to ours, are huddled on the sidewalk. Waiting to leave. And Mom’s decided to bide time by delivering a sympathetic soliloquy, the whole Oh, how we all have been there.
And it’s helpful, but really, it’s not.
Driving home with the (finally buckled) baby in the back seat, still sniffling and hiccup-breathing over the tragedy of Not Buying the Cars, my mind slips into a fit of curiosity. I have come to the humbling realization that when God refers to us as children, maybe he’s not exactly conjuring up the Precious Moments picture, you know, of us with the big puppy eyes. Of our relative smallness, fragility, and sweet naiveté.
Maybe, I think, he’s referring to all the bleeding out that parents do daily. Maybe he’s talking about all the loving that goes into kids who are not always logical, not always thankful, and who overly emote when they can’t get their way in the gift shop.
And almost immediately, I arrive at this: I am that child.
I am the wet-noodling, Bandalooping, plank-in-the-carseat kid who is indignant over my alleged injuries.
My pants are in a pinch, too often, too, because I don’t walk out with a particular blessing.
I miss the ongoing miracle of God’s provision and protection and attentive, all-the-time love because I am too busy hiccup-sniffling in the backseat. I am the angry little acrobat, demanding all the goodness I think He, by some strange contract, somehow owes me.
I conceal it better, maybe. Less theatrics.
But this, I’ve decided, is why parenting is such sacred and humbling stuff: In the weariest moments, when the patience is poured out and sure to run dry, I find myself living out a beautiful, messy picture.
A picture of God’s bewildering and undeserved favor toward me.
Oh, how he loves us.