When the Deck Feels (Un)Stacked Against You
I’ve heard it said that the “terrible twos” are nothing like the “trying threes”. I always hoped it wasn’t true. But here we are, just a mere week prior to my girls turning the big “3” and if the last couple of weeks have been any indication of the year to come, I guess my hope will unfortunately not be realized.
I honestly have to admit that my husband and I have been blessed with extremely intelligent, well-mannered and well-behaved girls – most of the time. Having said that, they are still toddlers who inevitably like to test their limits and push our buttons until we eventually give into one battle or another we’ve been trying to so desperately fight (such as how many toy trains they can take with them to bed, how many more minutes they spend playing outside before coming in for naptime, or how many more bites they’re required to swallow before receiving dessert).
Lately, it seems to be one more than the other that is having continual trouble in the “listening department” and this particular day last week was no exception. As much as I try to limit the time I spend on the phone during my girls’ waking hours, there are moments when a conversation just needs to be had. I happened to be in the middle of a rather important discussion with my dad when the girls discovered two random decks of cards sitting on the counter. (I’m still trying to get used to the fact that their ever-growing little legs are starting to allow them to reach surfaces which were not too long ago untouchable with a simply tip-toe move.) These particular playing cards were nothing special -- in fact, they were rather of little importance of all, simply something that I had failed to put in its proper place for quite some time. Not wanting to disrupt my conversation with my dad and simply happy that they both had found something to keep them occupied, I watched as they proceeded to (tear) open the boxes and strew the cards all over the living room floor. Again, this in and of itself did not really bother me – my typical motto is if it’s not hurting someone or something and they’re happy, let them be.
Upon hanging up the phone, I asked the girls if they would like to go play outside and received an enthusiastic “Yes!” And then I remembered the cards and our recent resolve to teach the girls the proper etiquette of cleaning up one toy/game/project/mess before moving on to the next. Ugh.
Was this a battle I wanted to fight on this particular day?
The answer was most definitely no. Even though my pregnant belly of 27+ weeks was making it increasingly difficult to lower and raise myself from a crouched position on the floor, I was still highly aware that doing so would be much easier than convincing the girls that cleaning up their mess before going outside was a good idea. But I also knew it wasn’t the better of the two options from a parenting standpoint.
“Girls, we need to clean up our mess before heading outside, ok?” I said in the most excited voice I could muster.
Silence. Blatant turning of the heads.
“Girls, what did Mommy ask you to do?”
Sure enough, just as I had predicted my recently more agreeable daughter sauntered over and began picking up the cards and putting them in my hand. And of course I helped. But she still grasped the concept of what I was asking her to do. My other daughter refused to even acknowledge that I had spoken at all.
About halfway through the process, I stopped the cooperative one and told her that she had done enough – the rest would be her sister’s job. Still no response from the sister. This soon led to a timeout, a stern talking to, and a complete meltdown. After a few minutes of screaming, when I asked if she was ready to be released from the timeout to pick up the cards, she proclaimed a fervent “No” through alligator tears. I only had about 30 seconds of patience left in me. I soon picked her up off the bottom step, took her over to where the cards still laid, and sternly told her once more to pick them up. Just short of physically placing one in her hand, I did everything I could think of to make her understand. And she still didn’t – or at least pretended not to.
I sat there on the floor at a loss for what to do next. I didn’t want to fight this battle anymore. I wanted to pick up all of the cards myself and forget it ever happened. I wanted my daughter to stop crying. I wanted to be outside watching my girls play in the warm sunshine. I wanted to take the “lazy” way out and tell her it was no big deal, Mommy would do it and she’d be off the hook. But I didn’t.
Instead, I started to pray. Or plead. Or simply talk to God in my head. Whatever it was, it was a silent cry for help.
Yes, I know it was just a deck of playing cards that I really didn’t even care about. But at that particular moment, I felt like my world, my worth as a mother, the fashioning of my child’s character, all hinged on my next move.
After all, I had chosen this battle and now I had to finish it.
So I sat there. And I told her that I would sit there with her until she decided to pick up a card. And eventually, she did. And then another, and another, and another. As soon as the last card was placed into my out-stretched hands, she was literally running for the back door in search of her flip flops to head outside with a huge smile on her face – her tears barely dry on her cheeks from her tantrum just minutes before.
It was indeed a small victory, but sometimes those are the ones you have to hang on to. As we headed out into the backyard, I wondered: how many times had God clearly shown me what I needed to do and had I blatantly turned my head the other direction in response? And on the flip side, how many times had He patiently sat beside me, waiting for me to make the right choice?
Forgive me, Lord, I quietly whispered as I placed my own sandals on my feet. And grant me the patience that only you can give to continue to raise these children of yours in the best way possible.