Sunday, February 17, 2008

Spirited Cries

I'm almost done cleaning out the attic in my head... there are still a few little cobwebs left...

I have a friend who is dealing with a "spirited" or "willful" child. She is exasperated and feels like she can't summon enough patience to handle her child's personality. She's tired and at the end of her rope. She feels like she's not measuring up as a mother.

Oh boy... does this ever sound familiar.

The good thing about having gone through a lot of crap in your life is that you have a lot to look back on and regret. Not that the regretting is fun, but in the midst of regret, you start to piece together how things could have been different. How you should have responded. How things might have turned out today. And then you can take your pain, and hope that it serves a higher purpose outside of yourself.

I once had a daughter that was spirited and willful, too. Life was so difficult. Every little thing turned into some huge catastrophe that was impossibly insurmountable. We screamed our hatred and loathing at each other with reckless abandon. How had flesh of my flesh become so hurtful and cruel? How had I become the monster that would yell so many ugly words back at her? I couldn't handle the chaos any longer and thought that her father could take over. In giving her the space I thought she needed, I've allowed a wider gap to grow. In a time when I thought we'd understand one another, I am instead experiencing her cold silence. We have not spoken in nearly six months. I call... I text... I email... to no avail. What does she want from me? I've cried that to the night sky so many times lately.

Last week, I got my answer.

In purging for our move, I came across old school items that kids usually bring home. Hand prints, self portraits, report cards... all the stuff you hang on to. It's usually so much fun to look back and remember your grown children as they were in the pigtails and jumprope years. I allowed myself a bit of time to soak in some memories as a break from the drudgery of moving. This time, it wasn't fun. I came across a journal that I had seen and read so many times. How could I have missed the message? In my daughter's first-grade scribbling were the words, "I love my house because my mommy is there."

~~gasp~~

I sat in stunned silence feeling the blow to my heart that I deserved. I came across more bits of paper and drawings that showed how much she loved me and wanted to be with me. In all my concern to keep a roof over my children's heads and have food on the table and clothing on their backs, I had glazed over the only nourishment this little child wanted: time with me. Instead of yelling at her for dragging her feet in the morning and making me late, I should have hugged her. Instead of threatening a spanking because she wouldn't finish dinner quickly, I should have sat down to ask about her day. Instead of rushing her off to a sitter so I could go work out, I should have taken her on my shoulders for a hike.

It's too late now.

I see in my friend's mother/daughter relationship the seeds of discord that are hauntingly familiar. Her daughter's cries are for any number of things, but really she's crying for time with mom, one on one. Beacuse I love them, I shared. Through tears, I admitted to her my failings in being so consumed with daily life as a stressed out mom that I had glazed over living as this child's mother. I know it's difficult to see when you're in it. There's so much to do and attend to. All I could offer her was the reality of my loss and how I let a beautiful little girl slip away from me because I was too overwhelmed to put "time" on my priority list. My friend received our story with the love and grace in which it was intended. Having that awareness doesn't make life any easier, but it sure will help to ease the strife in these precious years. And God willing, they will grow to understand and care for eachother in a wonderful loving relationship filled with memories of time well spent and a life of truly living.

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My heart and prayers go out to all the parents that have this heaviness to bear. Remember, though, no matter how difficult your "spirited" child may be, a life without that precious one is immeasurably more painful. Seek assistance in any way, I implore you. Love your child through it all and they will grow and love you back... eventually.

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