We haven't said as much as we should have in these pages about Zion's language, which is really coming into its own lately. As is fitting for a small younger brother, one of his most significant concerns is for bigness. Naturally he compares the size of things with words and appropriate intonation—"leetew neigh, BIG BIG neigh!"—but he also uses big to make sure he gets his due. "Me wan BIG coffee!", for example, or "No not littew juice, BIG juice!" (in both cases big refers not to the absolute size of the beverage but the relative concentration of his valued ingredient to the fillers we insist on foisting on him). Or "Moe wibbot! Me wan BIG wibbot!" (and only the close association of that last word with our breakfast of pancakes allows us any chance at understanding it!). Yes, this little boy knows what he deserves, and in almost all cases it's big—unless it's the bottle he's still clinging to: "no, me littew littew bottew!"
In a few days it will be Harvey's 4th birthday and I will write some beautiful blog post gushing about his awesome qualities, and how much I love him, and how I'm luckier than all the other mothers in the world.
But this is not that post.
This is about how parenting is sometimes hard shit.
Two days ago we went to our local town pool and Harvey mentioned that he'd like to take swim lessons. Okay, it's not like he ASKED for swim lessons, it's like the seventeenth time I asked him if he wanted swim lessons he shrugged and said, "okay." Either way, it was like a rocket shot me over the moon. For a year I've been asking Harvey to consent to various age-appropriate group activities - baseball, soccer, even ballet though his grandfather would take away his trust fund. Thus far the mention of such things has made him curl up into a ball like an armadillo. (That's the right animal? They curl up like that, right?) Harvey HATES being told what to do by other adults. He barely makes it through kid's church every week, and that's only because I'm in the room, and only because I'm absolutely forcing him to do it. So when he consented to swim lessons I breathed a year-long sign of relief. I said to myself, "This is it! Four years old will be different!"
Then this morning I said we would go to the pool to sign up for the lessons and Harvey fell apart on the kitchen floor. Now swim lessons are the scariest thing on the planet earth. And his mother is an evil dictator for suggesting them. I said we could talk about it later. Let's just go swimming and discuss this another time. He cried harder and stamped his feet and insisted he was not. going. anywhere. ever.
I was disappointed, and not only disappointed but MAD. Because I had been so proud of him on Saturday for agreeing to swim lessons, so proud of his newfound bravery and hopeful for the future. So when he returned to his normal behavior, I was mad at him for getting my hopes up and then dashing them. As if he was doing it just to fuck with me.
But the psychologist-written-book on helping children with anxiety says not to shame them for for their feelings. So instead of saying what I wanted to say I said "Harvey, I'm upset and mad and I need to take a few minutes away from you to calm down."
This mama-time-out approach works for some people who write parenting articles, apparently. But this morning it didn't. This morning it appeared that children having an anxiety attack about separation anxiety because they are afraid of separating from their parents? They do not like to be left alone.
"I want to beeeeee with yooooooooooou!" Harvey screamed from downstairs.
And when I was standing at the top of the stairs, wondering whether I would run down and scream at him, or punish him, or force him to put on his bathing suit RIGHT THAT MOMENT, I realized I was disgusted with my child. Absolutely disgusted. I was absolutely filled with righteous indignation. Because here was this kid manifesting all these disgusting SINS! Like LAZINESS! He's not only lazy because he won't try anything new; he's lazy because he won't even get up off the kitchen floor to come find me! Plus he's getting FAT! And he's cowing to FEAR! He is so completely run by fear that he won't try something he knows he wants to do because something about it suddenly scared him.
And this disgusts me more than anything else in the world, because loud and shrieking on the kitchen floor are MY SINS, the ones I've been trying to hide from the world for twenty years. It's me who is lazy and fat and fearful. My poor genetic duplicate is bawling because he's too afraid to do anything, and I'm thinking, "Yeah. I know what you mean."
I would not be disgusted if they were different sins. I would have compassion for PRIDE, or JEALOUSY, heck I'd have so much compassion I probably wouldn't notice them at all. But LAZINESS and FEAR? And maybe he's a little FAT? That's me if you strip away all my pretense of good qualities. If I stop for one moment cleaning and making and accomplishing and working out? The world would see that I am a lazy, fearful, (filthy?) child.
That should make it easier to love Harvey and for some reason it doesn't.
The people at church on my prayer team would say that I need to forgive myself, my current self and the child-like self inside of me who's been shamed for fatness and laziness and anxiety. And I'm totally in agreement with that advice if I was giving it to SOMEONE ELSE who I was praying for. But for me? Have compassion on myself? No way! Being disgusted with myself is pretty much my M.O. Disgust is my primary motivator. It's how I get like 90% of my chores done.
But for Harvey's sake I'll try to take a baby step. I'll offer him some grace. I may still force him into swim lessons, but I'm not going to talk about it any more this month.
Jesus said (you know what's coming here church goers and I'm sorry for being obvious) Jesus said that unless you become like a little child you can't enter into the kingdom of heaven. I always thought he meant you had to be like innocent and maybe even a little bit needy. Those things lead you to God, obviously. But what if he meant: unless you become like ACTUAL CHILDREN? Unless you're an irrational, impulsive, unfinished jerk, you can't begin to see what God is offering you? Maybe? Because I'm those things though I hate to admit it.