There are probably more than a few life lessons I’ve learned from being a parent, one of the most important obviously being how to eat a doughnut so the kids don’t catch me.
(The secret is you can’t hide when you eat one. It’s like they can sense sneakiness. I think it’s related to the fact that I can announce with gusto and clapping and eye contact, “Time to clean your room!” and they one hundred percent don’t hear me, but if I communicate to my husband with sign language and lip reading and the occasional mime, “I’m going to go take a bubble bath,” Bean is all like, “BUBBLE BATH?! I WANT TO COME!”
Life Lesson: Dance like no one is watching, and also eat a doughnut like you don’t mind sharing.)
But then this whole parenting thing catches me by surprise, somewhere in between hiding the chocolate covered cherries (they were in my Christmas stocking, okay?) and willingly saving the last two Reese’s cups (I MEAN…organically grown apples?) for my little buggers.
It’s surprising because I mean, who shares Reese’s cups?
But it’s also surprising because, all of a sudden, I am pressed against the earth, crushed by the sheer weight of raising this young man and young lady, crippled into stillness by the magnitude of what it all must mean to be their mother. I build them with my trembling hands and uncertain words, hoping they will become Kind and Compassionate and Thankful, Well-Rounded and Well-Educated and Well Aware.
But this is what you miss: I fall short, daily and knowingly, filling in the cracks with all good things from teachers, friends, and fellow parents, my palms poised and ready to smooth in the rough spots whispering “grace” like a prayer.
I am tougher on my Bug than anyone else. And I grow tougher still with every inch notched higher on his doorframe. His size and his wisdom and his intelligence fool me, convincing me he is very nearly grown, and should certainly start acting like it. I find myself panicking, watching the clock and the days crossed off on calendars, worried and aware my time to teach him is short, that he is already halfway out the door toward adulthood. I am running out of time, and I know this, I know this, so I speak louder and faster, and I push harder and firmer, and maybe one day all the tears and tired muscles will be worth it.
But the thing is, at nine (and a half) years old, this boy is already better than I’ll ever be. He is witty and quick, comfortable in his own skin and spiky hair. He loves without apology and laughs without reserve. He has baby cheeks and bruised shins, every inch of his body moving a hundred miles an hour.
I cannot fail at this. And knowing I do anyway? It paralyzes me.
But then he sleeps, cocooned beneath the blankets and twisted around action figures, and I sneak in to kiss him goodnight. I hold his hands tucked under his pillow, and in his sleep he holds mine back. I run my fingers along his lashes, his nose, his jaw, and that is when I feel it. Somewhere inside my nine-year-old is a man with a strong chin and stronger convictions, and I feel it in his bones and in his grip.
I have failed. I do fail. I will fail.
My daughter is full of beauty and spunk. I often wonder if these two things together won’t make her too terribly difficult on the world. And I worry this world might break her of it. So instead, I try to teach her when to yield and when to stand her ground, but the balance is fragile and to her everything on earth is a challenge to be won.
But where she is good at fighting for her way, she is even better at figuring out when she was wrong. She will run away and pout, shutting me out while she mourns. Sometimes I let her go, less because I am honoring her decision and more because my lack of attention is a kind of punishment in itself.
But other times and not often enough, I get it right. Those times I scoop her up and hold her, letting her know in language she understands how life can be frustrating and difficult, but I am constant. Those are the moments it won’t take long for her small, sweet voice to say, “I’m sorry, Mama, do you forgive me?”
The answer is of course, baby, always of course, because this little spitfire has shown me what it means to swallow pride and let loose faith, and just like that my anger or annoyance or sense of Manners or Rules or Appropriate Behavior is insignificant in the face of such great grace.
And it’s the thing for which I am most desperate in this calling of mine. It is grace spun into a silk fine and feather-light covering over the multitude of my sins. And even though I do not parent them perfectly, oh, how I love them fiercely, and the grace my children wear so well is eager to stretch across that gap.
And at the end of the day, it is grace that wins us all.