I entered parenthood with a great deal of ambivalence. I never was a fan of babies, and I had a love/hate relationship with children.
The love part was that I know they are the future: teach them well and bla-bla-bla.
The hate part was the irrationality, the ungratefulness, the noise…
My only real experience with children over the years was as a Sunday School teacher… Is it awful of me to say that one of the reasons I never wanted children of my own was one hundred percent because of interactions I had with kids in church?
So when it came down to having my own children, I had a lot of figuring things out to do. I had a lot of fear that I might never be able to love my own children if they were going to be irrational, ungrateful or noisy.
Well. We have certainly had the opportunity to test that out, now haven’t we?
I am now seven years into my test. Yes, my eldest turned seven two weeks ago. I have heard that seven is the age of reason…the age at which we can hope to see an end to the irrationality.
I have been telling myself for seven years, ”hold on. Just keep holding on. Just a little while longer.”
So. How is that going exactly? Does something magical happen at seven years old that brings a child reasonableness?
Here are two anecdotes:
1. It was two days before school started in the early morning hours…Let’s say five thirty AM. I heard my eldest, my freshly minted seven year old, in his room. It sounded like he was coughing. ”Great,” I thought to myself. ”Two days before school starts and he has to go get sick?”
Then, it didn’t sound like coughing anymore. It sounded like vomiting. And naturally, I launched into panicked parent mode. ”Save the rug!”
But he wasn’t vomiting. He was sobbing. For a solid five minutes, he sobbed and I worried. I tried to get him to breathe, to hold him, to at least blow his nose. Nothing doing.
He was trying to say something between crying jags, but it was so chopped up I couldn’t make sense of it.
Finally, I understood six words. ”I. Want. To. Stay. With. You.”
He wanted to stay with me.
As in, like in two days, when school started, the thing he had been looking forward to all summer, he wanted to stay with me instead.
Me? I looked around the room to see if perhaps he was talking about someone else. Maybe his father was in the room, and this was a plural you?
Nope. It was just the two of us.
”We had fun this summer, didn’t we?” I said, lying down next to him in his bed. I didn’t want to cajole him out of what he was saying, or negate it. He was feeling what he was feeling, and maybe he just needed to say it.
He hugged me super tight, something he doesn’t do very often.
”You’re the best Mama in the world,” he said through tears, which, at first I didn’t understand so I had to ask him to repeat.
I am not a very good mother and have no illusions on the subject. What I am, is the only Mama this child has in the whole world, and therefore, the best that he can get.
His innocent little tearful admission of innocence really rubbed my ambivalence the wrong way. How dare he say something so blatantly untrue about something I never wanted to be in the first place?
I was feeling defensive because of a wayward childish compliment about a career path that I stumbled into. Why was this so confusing? I didn’t like those words he said, because they meant I was a mother. I didn’t like those words because they reduced me to a greeting card.
I didn’t like those words because how they made me feel meant that maybe I wasn’t so ambivalent after all.
2. The same seven year old had spent a goodly few hours building a free form LEGO truck. It got damaged when I went to put things away, drawing his ire.
His indulgent father spent a very long time trying to put it back together, and when he was done, that ungrateful seven year old bellowed in anger that the truck was not good.
Yes, he was livid that his father tried to put something back together that he had been mad about having been broken in the first place. And someone dared say that seven was the age of reason?
It’s bed time. I bend over to kiss the top of his head and he says, ”How is everything in your heart?”
Now, this is a normal question in our house. It’s something we picked up from Andy Stanley. It’s a bed time question, and it can mean anything anyone wants it to. It’s a way to clear out the junk that we need to get off our chests before we go to bed. But typically, it’s me who asks the question.
When he asks the question, it means that he has something in his heart and he knows it and he doesn’t want me to forget to ask.
”Mine’s good. How about yours?” I reply.
”Dad asked me to forgive him for fixing my truck,” tears tears tears tears sobbing sobbing sobbing sobbing, ”and I’m sad because I didn’t forgive him.”
”Do you want me to go get him so that you can?”
I execute. Forgiveness is extended and received. Everyone goes to bed with a clean heart.
But that’s not the end of it. The next morning, when he came bounding out of his bedroom, he said to his father, ”Thank you for trying to fix my truck and I’m sorry I got mad.”
Is this what the elusive age of reason creates? Self-awareness and self-reflection? The ability to question our motivations and our bad actions?
Again, the ambivalence gets triggered, because it was in part about the unreasonableness of children. It had been comforted the night before with all the truck drama. But here it didn’t know what to think anymore.
So how’s it coming along?
Yeah, my ambivalence has taken a bit of a hit lately. I’ve never been ambivalent about the child himself, mind you. I’ve only been ambivalent about being his parent.
I have to admit that right now, I’m not sure I’m ambivalent about that anymore, either. I almost—almost—am proud to be the parent of that little man.