A friend of mine said the other day “wouldn’t it be helpful if we could put our kids in shirts that said ‘student human’ so that their misbehaviors could be seen as part of their learning process, and not the failure of their parent teachers?”
If I could time travel, my first stop would be somewhere in the Mesozoic Era, so I could hang out and watch dinosaurs, maybe fly with a pterodactyl a little bit, watch a volcano erupt. Then my next stop would be circa December 2006, when I was a perfectionistic first time Mom of a highly energetic 18 month old boy who I felt I was supposed to micro-manage. I would give myself a message from the future. It would be…. “trust your instincts.”
I was quite a wall flower when I had my first child, quite content to blend in to the background of whatever scene we found ourselves in. But God had other plans in mind. I suppose I had lived 25 years like that already and He expected some growth from me. So He gave us a strikingly beautiful boy, with eyes that people still comment on to this day. He was a sweet and easy baby, good sleeper and eater, easy temperament. But when his toddlerhood began, the babymoon was over. He never sat still, preferred shrieking to talking, got into EVERYTHING (especially anything he could dismantle impossibly), and had an odd obsession for pushing and hitting any random child he would see.
I lived perpetually mortified, we pretty much made a scene anywhere we went. We had to stop going to library storytimes (oh the shame!) and nurseries. At playgroups he would just go running or wandering away to look for rocks, sticks or something to climb, and I wouldn’t be able to talk to anyone because he would be disappearing into the horizon. Once I told him we’d have to leave the children’s museum if he didn’t change his behavior. It turned out that he didn’t give a hoot about being there in the first place, it was me who wanted to talk with friends. And so we had to leave. Every time I tried to discipline him, I felt like the one who was being punished. I could have given Supernanny a run for her money if she had seen how difficult it was to give a simple “time out” to my son, which became volatile, explosive, rage-filled sagas, usually ending with me blubbering to my husband on the phone. I literally dreamed of slapping poor unsuspecting people across the face who would say to me “have you tried stickers and lollypops as incentives?” (I should still probably go to Confession for that).
I felt so embarrassed, being a person who likes to just “blend in” like a chameleon, for I felt we drew attention everywhere we went. I internalized all the criticisms and advice I would hear from friends and family. And as a first time Mom, my insecurities ran wild and caught on fire, threatening my good instincts. I felt inept. My dear husband tried to help me listen to reason, but I resisted. I started a parenting book club and went into full helicopter-Mom mode, urging our son to make eye contact and say pleases and thank yous, and asking him to apologize for every little thing. Not only was he developmentally unable to do these things, but as anyone who teaches early childhood education would explain, a child really has to learn these things on their own. Some things can not be controlled, rushed and taught -only learned. Little did I know how much learning I needed to do myself that year.
Gradually I heard those good instincts whispering to me again, pulling me back from life so I would stop comparing my son to everyone that appeared “normal.” I needed to accept the challenges he brought me, and love him unconditionally, understand him, celebrate him. Even more so, I had to learn how to accept myself with my imperfections, and realize that my children are not mere extensions of myself, but they are their own people, who will grow one day into contributing adults in society, responsible for their own lives and decisions. How easy it is to treat them like extensions of ourselves, and not the exquisitely, wonderfully unique creations that they are. So caught up in worrying about how he reflected me, I lost touch with Who I should be reflecting.
Eight years later, I’m still in a learning curve. I expect I always will be. Our eldest son has grown to be a very bright, creative, quiet boy. He is still fiercely independent, but at least I’ve stopped interpreting that as a failure on my part. 🙂 He channeled his energy into self-motivation and focus, and turned his temperament towards nurturing his younger brothers, his empathy towards anyone in need. And I wonder, did I have something to do with it? Or is it because I finally learned to step back and let life happen? Whatever happened, he is exceptional, he is different. He always was. I love him even more for it, and couldn’t imagine him any other way. And thank heavens I didn’t get in the way of it.
As I look back on this, I realize how small it all was, even though it felt so huge to me at the time. I wish sometimes I could have worn a “student mother” shirt in those early days. I wonder now how many women who had gone through the same experience would smile benevolently and shake their heads at me. Those Moms who sat chatting together at the park, while I hovered near the playground equipment watching everyone’s kids, thinking how irresponsible they were for not watching their kids under a microscope. It wasn’t my fault, I was just trying to do what I thought was my best. Little did I know what God had in store for me, and what challenges are yet to come in parenthood.
We’re all student humans in our different ways. I’m pretty sure that’s what it means to be human, we make mistakes, and we learn. We forgive others and we forgive ourselves. We pray, we hope, and we trust our instincts. And we live with the constant uncertainty that just when we think we finally figured something out, the ground could shift beneath us. And it’s okay, because God is always doing something with us that we’ll look back on and smile and shake our heads about later.