I am mom to that kid: the boy who is a bit bigger, a bit louder, and a bit more unruly than other kids his age. He is my joy and delight (he, and his little brother, of course). He made me work ridiculously hard during the first four months of his life, with sleepless nights and colic, but we powered through. He learned to walk and talk and run and shout, always a bit earlier than his peers, and he became much happier with his newfound freedom and ability to communicate.
He’s almost three now, and I’ve settled into motherhood for the most part. I know my sweet boy, and he knows me. Our relationship is built on love and trust. It’s a relationship that I am proud of, because it has taken time and attention to cultivate. We both yell at times, because we have big feelings. We both apologize often, and the hugs strengthen our bond. I know that the seasons come and go, some full of calm and cooperation, and others full of crying and hysterics. I also know how important it is for me to remain steady while adapting new parenting strategies to care for such a bright and opinionated little boy.
The new season we’ve entered is one of defiance, and I have not yet figured out how to adjust my parenting to his needs. He uses the word “sneaking” and blatantly chooses to run off when I ask him to stay. Public outings are especially hard with a one-year-old brother in tow, who has his own needs and desires, and also a bit of the strong will that my oldest champions.
Today at the library, we had a rough day. My oldest ran through the building as soon as we entered, laughing hysterically because he thought it was a game. The librarian gave me a reproachful look, and I told her I’d handle it. I needed to use the restroom, and that created a power struggle, because he wanted to play trains. While playing trains, baby brother pooped, and we had to go back to the bathroom for a diaper change. I literally had to drag him across the floor with his brother in my arms while other parents watched. Then, when story time for the one-year-olds began, he wanted to stand on the bench and look out the window, which the librarian asked him not to do. I wish she’d just let him look out the window, because he was happy and not disrupting anyone. Once he got down from the bench, though, he decided to run as fast as he could around the room, circling all the families, and being incredibly disruptive. Nothing I said deterred him. Finally, after another reproachful look from the librarian, I picked up our bags, his brother, and marched through the middle of story time in order to intercept him and drag him, kicking and screaming, out of the library. As we walked to the car, and he was wailing, people watched us and even commented that someone was having a bad day. At this point, I started to cry. We were all having a bad day.
I texted my friend after the outing, for a bit of encouragement, and also to share the embarrassment I was feeling. She sent me kind words, and it was helpful to share the feelings with someone else instead of ruminating on them alone. I talked to my oldest, told him I loved him, and asked him to think about ways he can listen and obey better next time, so that instead of leaving, we can stay. I held my youngest in my arms and read him many books when we got home to make up for the books we missed at story time.
What else can I say? I wish the librarian had been more understanding and used her words and authoritative position to help engage my son rather than wishing him away. I wish another parent had offered me some help or even a knowing smile as I carried 50 pounds of upset children, books, and a diaper bag to the car.
However, as embarrassing and frustrating as the situation was, I don’t wish these moments away. It’s these hard moments that God will use to grow my children and me. These moments teach my children that they are loved, regardless of their actions. They also learn that there is a time and place for certain behaviors. They learn that grownups get upset, just like they do, and that we all have to work on patience and putting others first. I feel as if I am being sharpened by iron each day, specifically in the practice of gentleness and faithfulness, such needed characteristics in caring for children.
I would not trade my strong-willed child for anything. I marvel at his determination and creativity, traits that make the days highly entertaining, even if draining. He is smart, hilarious, and beautifully intentional. He loves with his whole heart, and I can literally feel his feelings, whether he is incredibly happy or sad. I’m still learning how to parent him well in each new stage that arrives, because once I think I’ve figured him out, he changes again. Each change brings new abilities and a deeper relationship, though, so it’s always so worth it once we make it through the tough part.
In the meantime, when I see another mom with “that kid,” I will tell her she’s doing a great job. I will encourage her to keep her head up. I might even give her a hug. These tough little ones are incredible gifts, and it takes incredible strength and endurance to parent them well.