There’s this gnarled old tree in my front yard that in order to see the top from our porch you have to crook your neck to the side to see the branches stretching back and forth above the more normal-looking trees; it’s something straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. Our house is perched on the side of a mountain toward the top and last year lightning struck the tree making it even more gnarly looking. And it’s the tree that I stare at when I sit in one of our iron chairs on the front porch taking the deep breath I often hold throughout the day. It’s here where I take a moment to zoom out of the details and minutia that consume me and look at the bigger picture.
May was busy. Too busy. Three out of the four of our birthdays are in May, there’s Mother’s Day, graduations, Memorial Day, and this year I decided to throw in a surgery. It was a bit much. With the busyness came losing sight of some virtues like patience and grace. And somewhere along the line, I feel like I’ve lost my sense of humor too. As I mentioned during a previous Facebook post, we’ve had some unlovely moments, so many I couldn’t put a number to it. Enough to make me exhausted just thinking about waking Jillian up in the morning and stirring the dragon. And then there’s Mark’s newest discovery, his ability to stick his fingers down his throat to make himself gag. The giggles that ensue almost make up for the uneasiness I feel when he gets himself so close to actually vomiting. His recent ornery streak, which includes biting and mischievously knocking his sister’s things over just to elicit a “no, Mark!” has been an odd mix of frustrating and adorable.
And Jillian has been developing new fears like hobbies. An Arthur episode on DVD sparked anxiety about diabetes despite the show’s best effort to instill empathy in kids about chronic illness. She heard the little girl on the show describe diabetes as her pancreas being sleepy. Jilli shoots me a silent horrified look and knowing her all too well, I calmly respond with, no, your pancreas is not sleepy.
The tummy aches that arise at the moment we sit down to eat or leave the house are beyond frustrating. Mentally I sway back and forth between running through the scenarios of legitimate physical problems and then understanding how powerful anxiety can be. Either way, hearing her chant “I don’t feel good” repeatedly is enough to turn my stomach.
And the behavior problems that result are crippling. I keep thinking that this can’t be normal. Hostage negotiation is what this feels like, not parenting.
I spend a lot of time feeling like a failure as a parent.
Here’s a recent scenario that demonstrates her difficulty as well as my own.
Taking a bath.
Bath time should be filled with giggles and bubble beards, not tantrums and screams, but alas we are accustomed to the latter. This week’s bath time escapade went something like this…
After several minutes of stalling, I am able to get her into the bathroom.
Me: It’s time to get in the tub, please get in.
Jilli: No! What if I have to pee again?
Me: It just so happens that the potty inconveniently located right next to the tub, so if you have to go, I’ll help you get out to go potty.
Some crying, and then she concedes.
Jilli: Ok, fine
Me: You have five minutes to play. When the timer is up, I’m going to finish your bath. Five minutes passed. It’s time to wash your hair.
Me: It’s time to wash your hair, we set a timer, the time is up, it’s time for you to put your head back so I can wet your hair.
Jilli: Fine but I want to put my head back in the water myself.
She barely wets her hair.
Me: You wet the ends, now I’m going to need to use a cup to get the rest of your head wet.
Me: Just tilt your head back. I’m going to get water on your face if you don’t tilt your head back.
Jilli: No! There’s a drip on my forehead!!
She begins screaming and I hand her a washcloth to wipe her face.
Jilli: Water is now getting in my belly button!!!
Me: It’s OK! Nothing bad will happen, your belly button doesn’t go anywhere.
She looks horrified.
Jilli: What if water enters it and then gets in my tummy, where does it go?
Me: It’s a crevice! It goes nowhere. Water will not get into your tummy and harm you, put your head back so I can stop getting water in your face!
Jilli: Drip!! My washcloth is wet!
Me: That’s because you put it in the tub, here’s a second washcloth for your face, please tilt your head back.
Slight head tilt, not enough to avoid further face drips.
Jilli: Drip!!! My eyes are burning! I’m blind!! I can’t see!! My washcloth is wet again!
Me: Here’s a third washcloth (said with clenched teeth and hands)
Jillian is now uncontrollably screaming.
Me: Get out of the tub.
Jilli reluctantly gets out of the tub, and finally walks out of the bathroom with a towel around herself, looks at me, and says, “why doesn’t anyone just love me? All I want is a hug and a kiss.”
If I had a picture of my face when she said that it would not have been pretty. The best emoticon for it would be the little face with the sort of crazy, scared, “oh my gosh” looking eyes.
Ike came upstairs and took over-drying her hair so that I could walk outside and collect my thoughts and cease my teeth grinding.
And so I found myself in the iron chair on the porch, listening to the still quiet outside, hearing the wind blowing and rustling the leaves of our Dr. Seuss tree, a stark contrast to the sweaty, scream filled bath time adventure that just went down a few moments earlier. And I just kept thinking I’ve lost sight of loving her. I’ve become consumed with the crazy behavior that I haven’t tried to connect with her and love on her, and have been completely focused on the tasks at hand, not on the beautiful person she is.
And God reminded me of this at her preschool graduation last Friday night.
Pharrell’s “Happy” began to play as they started announcing the kid’s names to walk down the aisle, and I could see her in her little pink dress that I wrestled on her, nervously peeking out behind one of her friends. I caught her eye and waved excitedly, a large camera around my neck, a video camera in one hand, and my phone in the other, determined to document! She was so nervous all week about graduation, and I just put the pieces together that her nervousness was causing greater deterioration in her behavior. And then I began to cry, not just because my baby was graduating from preschool and closing a comfortable chapter but because I had lost sight of my beautiful daughter. She walked shyly up the aisle to the stage and I collected myself and returned to where everyone was sitting. I saw her nervously take a deep breath after the first couple of songs and then I decided to get out of my seat and stand where she could see me. We locked eyes and she beamed a big smile. And I just watched her with so much pride as she enthusiastically did the hand motions and sang along to each song looking right at me as she carried out her little routines. When it was her turn to approach the microphone she spoke clearly with confidence, and she chose to talk about her brother. I was so incredibly proud of so many things at that moment, but I also felt such a joy in my heart as I saw my daughter shine, and not be gripped by fear.
Her graduation was a beautiful, much-needed gift during this frustrating valley, and a reminder to not lose sight of the forest for the trees.