remember when I was young
and so were you?
and time stood still and love was all we knew?
Long division almost made me runaway from home. I sat at our white kitchen table, atop white large kitchen tiles, in a white stucco San Diego town-home devising my plan. The sun light reflected off the interior brightness; I could hear perfect squeals of fun and happiness from my neighbor buds playing outside in the goodnight sun air. My brothers and sister were out there, too. But I was stuck. Stuck inside while mom made dinner. Stuck staring at numbers and ruled-notebook paper. Stuck in the dumb education system. I thought about running away. Boxcar Children style. I'd live in a barn by the sea and eat buttered green peas for lunch. I didn't understand long division. I already hated math but long division took me to a new level of despair, stress and frustration. I felt like an idiot. I felt hot and flushed. I felt anxious. Both of my parents had been tenderly patient, and had come at it from all kinds of angles. We'd been working on it for days. It wasn't their fault (I went on to have about five other math teachers besides my parents, and my understanding and ability to complete 'math' only got worse. It's just how I am.) but it wasn't fair, I felt.
"Never forget this," I told myself, "all these people say it's so easy. It's NOT easy. And if someday it ever is easy, don't forget how hard it used to be. This is THE worst." I would send myself mental e-mails. Everything in life was now based on how hard long-division was. Sick in bed with strep throat? Not as bad as doing long division. Having to mop the bathroom floor? Not as bad as doing long division. I kept my word to myself and I never forgot.
It's helped me be a mama. For some reason I remember 'little kid struggle' awfully well. It's the same. Sure, long division isn't the 10 on the 1-10 hardship scale anymore, but I always had a 10. Everyone does. Isn't it hard to see someone move into your dream house, while you have to sell yours because money sucks? Isn't it hard to see her nice jewelry and her cute little gym body and her expensive haircut, while you don't have enough to pay your monthly bills? Isn't it hard to find out another one is pregnant, and you aren't... again? Isn't it hard that he isn't in your life -- whether he is real or 'someone hoped for'? Isn't it hard to see life-you-can't-have paraded in front of you? Be honest! Be human. Yeah it's hard! Well, it's hard to be four and to walk into a grocery store and see dozens and dozens of life-you-can't-have paraded in front of you. It's hard to be told "No. Not for you, at least not for now." Whether that's financial stability or a pack of M&M's.
Isn't it hard to be hungry? I get snappy, short, quiet. Leave me alone and get me some food. It's hard to wait an hour at a restaurant for a table to open up. Heck, it's hard to wait for the food to arrive after the waiter takes the order! "Goshdernit, it's been 20 MINUTES. What on earth is taking them so long?! This is RIDICULOUS. I'm going to talk to the manager." It's hard to be patient when your body is ready for it's basic needs. Isn't it hard to feel miserably uncomfortable in your clothes? Your bra has been on too long, and is too tight, and needs to stop? Your pants have become too small after a full-meal? You sneezed too hard and weren't prepared and now you just need to change? You spilled pasta sauce down the front of your shirt? Your body isn't at the health and fitness level that feels 'right' and you want to hide? You feel uncomfortable, messy, blah? I hate wearing a maxi pad that needs to be changed, let alone a whole diaper! It's hard! It makes me cranky too!
It's the same. They're the same. Their struggle is the same. At least to them in their world it is. They don't know any better. Of course you know you're not going to leave them alone in a dark room forever. But do you ever fear that you'll feel *this* lonely forever? It's unnerving! It's unknown! You want someone to come be with you! Of course you know eating vegetables is good for them. Do you know that swallowing untasty, hard things in life is good for you? Or do you sulk in your chair and chant for dessert and try to sneak cauliflower into your pockets so you don't have to swallow? (Tip: if you're going to try to get rid of your food by throwing it under the table, make sure it doesn't hit your mom in the shin.) Of course, now is not a good time to do something silly like take off your clothes and explore the magic of a Sharpie. We're late! We have to go! Why are you undressed again?! But do you ever procrastinate on silly things? Do you ever come up with something you feel motivated and excited to do, even though you have a large to-do list of things you should 'really' do first?
Babies, toddlers, children, teenagers, young adults, mid-lifers, the elderly want to be loved, want to be understood, want to be valued, want to be respected, want to be heard. My husband listening to my story, enjoying my sense of humor, looking me in the eye, sharing his story of the day and communicating through tone, touch, body language, words, (whatever!) that he is delighted to be with me changes my day. Those practices consistently can change a life.
"Imagine yourself as your child. Try to examine what life for him is really like. Be honest. Are you the kid who wants to paint more than anything in the world but your mom doesn't want the mess? Are you the one who stands with your mom while she complains about you to strangers in line? Do you feel lonely, left out, ignored, a burden? Do you have reason to believe your parents aren't interested in you? Do your parents only seem to give token hugs?" Rachel Jankovic
Parents work your imaginations, tap into their hearts, understand that they may honestly, in their naive-visioned way, be lonely, scared, sad, confused, tempted, distracted or hurt. Perhaps if we hourly connect with their hardships we may gain their magic. Maybe we'd get to be carefree more often. Maybe we'd lose ourselves in a game. Maybe we'd believe, just for a second, that the floor is made of lava. Maybe we'd laugh harder. Maybe our work would become sweeter. Maybe enhancing their crazy instead of hampering it would change the attitude in their heart. Maybe we'd be able to see the good quicker. Maybe the annoying things wouldn't pinch as aggressively. Maybe we'd care less what 'everyone' thought. Maybe diaper changes wouldn't be so easy to complain about. Maybe we'd make private memories just for our household. Maybe it would inspire us. Maybe God would make plain His creativity, compassion, happiness through the bizarre thoughts, noises and actions of children. Maybe they'd know. Maybe it'd change their life. Maybe they'd never forget.
Because, see, I never forgot mama going over long division again, and again, and again. Patiently. Again. One more time. Again. While folding socks. Again. While stirring pasta sauce. Again. In bed. Again. They'll never forget that you were there, aware, ready when their 10's came. So enjoy the easy ones through threes, don't brush off the fours through sixes, stop everything for the sevens to nines... and then you'll have the discernment, care and heart for the tens. For the really bad diaper rash. For teething. For temper tantrums. For wanting to be barefoot. For long division. For shot-gunning the window seat. For not making the team. For being the weird one in class. For final exams. For disappointing report cards. For moving away to college. For the first real heart breaks. They have to face these things. They have to feel them and go through them. Understanding their struggle doesn't mean you hide them from any negative experience. It doesn't mean that you don't discipline, set boundaries, and tell them "No, not now" at the grocery store. But it means you remember and that you have their back; and remembering them and supporting them means you care.
“Because I was once a child, I am always a child. Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods and ecstasies, these are still part of me, and always will be... This does not mean that I ought to be trapped or enclosed in any of these ages...the delayed adolescent, the childish adult, but that they are in me to be drawn on; to forget is a form of suicide.
Far too many people misunderstand what *putting away childish things* means, and think that forgetting what it is like to think and feel and touch and smell and taste and see and hear like a three-year-old or a thirteen-year-old or a twenty-three-year-old means being grown-up. When I'm with these people I, like the kids, feel that if this is what it means to be a grown-up, then I don't ever want to be one. Instead of which, if I can retain a child's awareness and joy, and *be* fifty-one, then I will really learn what it means to be grownup.” Madeleine L'Engle