Today I am sharing something I wrote last week, which was really more journaling. It’s just how I process things. Later, I read it to my family and they suggested I ought to go ahead and publish it for all of you. So I am. It’s a little long, but maybe it’s for someone today…
Five is just a funny age. I mean, every age is funny in its own way, but five…Five is just messing with my heart a lot. Maybe it’s because Levi is my “last five,” but I seem to be finding all kinds of tender moments, sweet life lessons, and spiritual analogies in my dealings with this little guy.
Lately I find myself just kissing Levi all of the time. Every time he starts to tell a story, with that voice that is still so baby-like but also using teenage phrases and the biggest vocabulary words he can find, I just have to interrupt to kiss his soft cheeks. He’s just plain irresistible. I am crazy about this kid, though he has also been trying my patience more than ever.
When he is talking all big-boy like and mixing up his words and I see his soft cheeks, I often think of God. (Parenting seems to give me God analogies all of the time.) I wonder if God looks at us like that and if He just wants to grab us and kiss our cheeks too sometimes. And then I think of Levi and how it hurts me when I grab him to kiss him and he turns away from me–running the other direction. And then I think of God too and it hurts my heart then.
But I have a parenting story, so I’ll just start with that:
We went to Waimea Bay yesterday. Maybe you saw a photo on Instagram because I was so happy to be back in Hawaii and Waimea is just one of those places that blow your mind. It’s seven minutes from my house, and it’s an incredibly beautiful beach with a huge rock that all kinds of people jump off, all summer long. The water is warm and in the summer time it is mostly flat so you can swim and snorkel and the dolphins even come in to frolic on occasion. Behind the bay is Waimea Valley, home to thousands of indigenous plants, and a short hike that leads to a waterfall. People get married up there, and you just can hardly believe it is all real.
So, each week the youth group gathers at Waimea bay for a little outreach/social event and since it was our first week back we thought the boys should get down there to join them. Since Levi is at the age where he wants to do everything the big brothers do, I promised that IF I could get a parking spot, he and I could go down to the beach too. If not, I would just drop the older boys and we would go home.
The parking lot was full, so we dropped the boys off first. Levi’s whining began immediately, which I had anticipated, but I said I would give it a good shot and wait for a few minutes to see if we could snag a spot as someone pulled out. Fifteen minutes later, we got lucky, and scored a spot.
As we marched down the beach I decided that I was glad to be there. It is gorgeous. Levi and I could use some beach time, a dip in the ocean, and it really felt good to be out. My to-do list could wait.
But Levi seemed to be stuck in his whining mode from the parking lot. I suggested he come over for me to sunscreen him and he ran away. I asked him to sit down and he sneered and pulled away from me. Then he just sat there and whined for no good reason at all. Now these are all pretty familiar behaviors for my five-year old. I don’t like them at all, and frankly, I get pretty down on myself when he acts like that. I parented my first three boys with such focus and commitment that by age five there wasn’t much negotiation in times like these. Sure there were some of those times, but they were the exception. If Mommy suggested sunscreen they literally held still and let me sunscreen them. I poured a lot into parenting those three.
Levi, on the other hand, has been raised both on the go, and by a handful of people. My people. I am much busier now than I used to be. So, sometimes it is Josiah tending to him, or Jonah, or Luke. We are often at beaches, or running around. Which means my discipline has been less than consistent. If Levi throws a little fit in public, sometimes…okay, oftentimes, he gets his way. I am not proud of this–in fact, it makes me sad because I do believe that there will be repercussions as he gets older. Which is why I am constantly “recommitting” to “firm discipline,” and being on top of things. And I’ll do really good for a day or two, and then…well, it’s hard.
So this brings me to Waimea Bay and the whole fussing in public and my realizing, once again, that I’ve failed to train him well, and my fast-forward thinking to “if this is how he acts at five, this is how he’ll be in his teenage years,” (that’s what I’ve read anyways,) which scares me to death. So, as Josiah and I sat on the towel in the sand, and the fussing and disobedience continued, I turned to my oldest and said, “I suppose I should take him home.” Josiah looked me square in the eye and said, “You really should mom. He needs to learn.” I started to pack up my stuff and seeing that I meant it, Levi started to really fuss. Then I did the thing I never would have done with the others and offered more chances, “If you can change your behavior NOW, I will give you another chance.” To which he started promising changed behavior yet with a completely bratty voice: “I’ll stop fussing” he said, with the fussiest fuss-voice you’ve ever heard. It was slightly comical.
Josiah nodded at me, and I knew it was time for business. Realizing that just getting Levi to the car would be a huge job, and before I could ask, Josiah said “You get your stuff, and I’ll carry him for you.” to which I wanted to give Josiah a million dollars. Now I am aware that Josiah was also probably wanting to get the bratty five year old off the beach to avoid further embarrassment in front of his youth group friends, but still: At that moment he was my hero.
Sadly, as Josiah picked Levi up and began carrying him up the long white-sand beach, Levi’s antics only escalated. As soon as he realized we weren’t kidding, he went into all-out panic mode. He started hitting Josiah, screaming, kicking…the whole scene. It was all at once horrible, and hilarious.
Josiah and I marched ahead, calmly. Josiah said over his shoulder, “This is just a consequence for all of the times we have let him get by with things before.” He wasn’t saying it to be rude or disrespectful, he was owning it with me.
By the time we got to the car, I was hedging. Maybe I should give him another chance? After all, all he did was fussy a bit, maybe I’m being extreme? Plus, now I miss out on my lovely day at the beach. A girl pulled up asking if we were leaving so she could take our parking spot and I said, “I’m not sure,” to which Josiah yelled over me, “Yes–they are.” I laughed and thanked God for Josiah’s young leadership skills.
Josiah buckled Levi in and said he was so sorry I had to deal with this. I thanked him and smiled, wondering who was more the parent at this point. Then I drove off calmly, with Levi completely freaking out in back. He screamed, he cried, he somehow managed to undress himself and remove the entire cover from his car seat all while buckled in it. He was in rare form.
Personally, I loved that I was not angry. I was just so glad that I had the time and energy to deal with it right this time.
We drove the seven minutes home, and just about the time we pulled onto our street, my little boy quieted. He was sweaty and I am certain his head must have been throbbing. I knew he was both embarrassed, and dreading what this would lead to: A big lecture? A spanking? Or maybe worse…A nap!??
By the time I opened his door, I looked at his tiny body and his car seat all messed up, and his face looking guilty, sad, and broken. And at that moment I felt like I got the tiniest glimpse of God’s heart for us, His children. We are all a mess, right? We’ve all thrown fits (whether out loud or silently,) and we’ve stripped our clothes and messed up our stuff. We’ve fussed over ridiculous things, and then we’ve screamed about it until we have no idea what we’re screaming at. We have worn ourselves out with our antics to the point that we don’t even know how to undo what we’ve done.
So I just silently stood there, watching Levi awkwardly trying to put his car seat cover back on. I gently helped him, then I put my arms out as he wrapped his skinny white arms around my neck.
We had this knowing moment then. He knew that this wasn’t over, and I knew that I had one chance to do this right. I didn’t want to yell. I wanted my kindness to lead to his repentance. And even in that moment all I could think of was GOD. How God handles us…me, every single day.
I carried that little sweaty boy to the couch where we sat and had a short talk. I asked questions, he gave answers. He knew exactly what had happened, at least as far as a five-year old could. I reminded him of my job as his mommy: To train him up to be a good boy. I also apologized for not always doing things right. For letting him get by with things that I should have disciplined him for. In words a five-year old could understand, I explained that we are a busy family, and that I really really want him to grow up good like his big brothers, so I would have to be doing a lot more of this “hard” discipline this summer. He nodded like a big boy.
Then I asked if I needed to carry him to a time-out in his room, or if he could walk himself there. He said he would walk.
And twenty minutes later, I went in to find him looking at a book quietly.
The rest of our day was lovely. Full of respect and kindness. Once or twice I heard a whiney voice creep up to which I reminded him that we would have NONE of that. In a firm, but loving voice.
So today, I woke up thinking about all of that. First of all, I am inspired to parent with the same diligence and focus today as I did yesterday. I know I won’t always be consistent, and Levi won’t grow up exactly like his big brothers because everything is different. But he’ll still do ok.
Even more though I keep thinking of God’s heart, and me as His kid. I think of how He is parenting me, constantly, whether I am aware of it or not. And I’ll be honest: Most of the time I don’t even look up from my messed up car seat to see Him there, with tender eyes and arms wide open. I’m too busy managing life “all by my own self,” as Levi would say.
I think of what a pity it would have been if I had come home, and in anger tossed Levi into his room for a time out. (I’ve certainly parented that way more than once.) We would have missed the sweet moments of repentance, sweetness, and deep connection.
And I am so glad God is not like that. His heart for me is always love. He desire is to always connect, and extend kindness…the kind that leads to repentance.
So today I am keeping my spiritual eyes open: I want to see God’s hand gently leading me. I want to notice His tender eyes, piercing my heart. I want to share the moments. All of them.
And when he just wants to stop and kiss my cheek, I want to be sure to turn to him, and hold still, and receive.
What are you learning in parenting now? Whether you have a baby, a five year old, or grown kids, there are always lessons to learn. And more: God usually has a message in there for us as well.