"You will be a better mom because you are a theologian, and a better theologian because you are a mom."

Is it true? In this blog, I explore the interplay and intersection of motherhood and theologianhood.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Life is Like That

It was another cold, rainy morning, and Jeff was off to teach his early class so I was tasked with taking Maia to school. (No, this isn't another post on mortification.) According to his four month check-up, Robert is now 17 lbs. (90%) and 27 in. (off the chart, above 99%, however that works), so I've been wanting to put him in the stroller, that is, the regular everyday single stroller.

Patrick is not such a fan of this arrangement. He doesn't mind the carseat caddy, where he can easily stand on the frame and ride along, but he greatly dislikes being replaced in the Cybex. I've recently been reading Love and Logic Parenting Magic, so I thought I could overcome Patrick's dislike simply by offering him two choices, both of which were fine with me. "Patrick, would you like to stand on the back of the stroller or walk to Maia's school?" After waiting the obligatory ten seconds without a clear answer from him, I said, "Ok, you'll ride on the back. Would you like me to lift you up or would you like to step up?" No answer after ten seconds, so I began lifting him up.

And thus began the first tantrum of the day.

He didn't want to ride on the back, he wanted to go in the stroller. "I wanna go IN the stroller!!! I wanna go IN the stroller!!!" all the way to the school, all the way back, with the icy rain making my hands sting, and rain soaking through his coat. Robert was cozily tucked away under the rain cover, and Eva had an umbrella.

Whew. By the time I got home, I was ready for that tantrum to end. And fortunately, it did, due to the distraction of another helping of oatmeal during the ten minute lag time before we took Eva to nursery school. This time I was certain I could avoid a tantrum. It's not as comfortable with the longer walk, and I'd have to keep my raincoat open, but I could wear Robert in the ergo and let Patrick sit in the stroller.

When we left to take Eva, that's how we were set up: Patrick in the stroller, Robert in the ergo, and Eva hopped up onto the back of the stroller, with her umbrella blocking my vision and making it so hard to navigate through the remaining narrow snow passages along the way that I finally asked her to get down and walk. Patrick was dry under the rain cover and Eva had her boots and umbrella, but now Robert was getting hit with rain on his little sleeping face. I didn't drive because our driveway was not too accessible since there was a giant excavator from the water main replacement operation right in front of our house. And besides, normally (when there's no icy rain), I like the walk.

We took off at a brisk pace, and thus began the second tantrum of the day.

Patrick didn't want to be in the stroller, he wanted to walk. "I wanna walk! I wanna walk! Let me out! I wanna walk!" At first I reminded him that he couldn't walk because he had chosen NOT to wear his rain boots (I had let him choose other shoes because I knew he'd be in the stroller anyway). Then I went into "ignore the tantrum" mode and just didn't respond to anything he was saying, but rather tried to chat with Eva about what she'd be doing at school.

Suddenly I realized that he was yelling that he couldn't see and he sounded really kind of panicky. At first I still wasn't going to respond because...as those parenting books always say...if you respond at this point you're just proving that a tantrum will force you to respond, i.e. that you'll be manipulated by crying and screaming. But then I had a flashback to that scene in Jane Eyre where she's locked in the red room and scared to death, and I started worrying that I was causing claustrophobia in my son under the rain cover. Robert fit nicely under the rain cover with plenty of breathing room, but for Patrick it was a little more restrictive. And his screams from the "I wanna get out" tantrum had fogged up the cover so that he really couldn't see. So finally I stopped walking and pulled up the rain cover. Patrick calmed down a little after that, and I managed to feel pretty bad for not responding to him earlier when he was so obviously upset.

But then I thought, you know, this is where love and logic is kind of wrong. Of course you want to teach your child that throwing a tantrum will NOT get him what he wants, but rather being nice and polite is the way to go. In reality, however, this is just not always the case. You can ask Eva, whose sweet, little voice often goes unheard and unanswered when she's competing with her louder siblings. And I'm not convinced that this simply represents a personal parenting failure. Because in reality, it IS often the adults who "throw tantrums" that get what they want, whereas the calm, quiet, polite, unassertive adults do not get answered or do not get the results they want. In some sense, a tantrum is a logical way to get what you need because responding to a tantrum is a natural thing to do. There is even biblical support for (annoying) perseverance, as in the case of the widow that wants the judge to offer her a just decision, and finally he does simply so he can get rid of her!

In the midst of these musings, I reflected on how Patrick wanted IN the stroller when we took Maia to school and then wanted OUT of the stroller when we took Eva to school. From the Mom perspective, I really couldn't see what I could have done better so that he wouldn't have thrown a tantrum. I noted especially that I felt like I'd made a sacrifice for his happiness by carrying Robert in the ergo and letting him ride in the stroller. And this brought me to think about what God thinks about when he looks down at me. I'm not all that different than Patrick, other than that my tantrums are a little more subtle.

I say I want something, but then find some way to be dissatisfied even after God has blessed me with it, if I even notice that he has blessed me. And like Patrick, I'm stuck in this little world where I want to see my wants and desires as the focus of existence. I look at Patrick throwing a tantrum, and I think - no, I know - he's being ridiculous. And God looks at me sometimes and knows that I'm being ridiculous. Life is like that. Even when we get what we want, we don't want it that way. So what I mean really is that we are like that - easily dissatisfied, little children throwing tantrums. And like a good mother, God observes our tantrums and knows when it's just a tantrum and when it's the persistence that bespeaks a genuine need/want that is not simply based on our selfish preferences.

Life is like that with a loving God. But it's still best to "use the magic word"...