This is not the post I have intended to post for you for the past two weeks. In fact, the other post is still in my Word documents, waiting to be perfected, but I missed you so I came online to ramble.
Actually, I wanted to tell you about what my oldest daughter said to me the other day. We were talking on the phone to my mother, who was at Costco getting ingredients and random items for my little brothers’ rehearsal dinner.
(I need to interrupt this and give you background info. For those of you who don’t know this, my punk of a little brother got married last Saturday to a lovely, lovely girl, but unfortunately we were not able to come because I keep having these random bouts of contractions that never actually materialize into full-blown labor, but could. And if they did on an airplane…you can imagine the results. I don’t hate anyone in this world enough to make them clean up placenta from the crevices of those tiny airline seats. Except Nancy Pelosi, but something tells me she wouldn’t volunteer for the job.)
We’ve had a hard time getting Sienna to understand why we couldn’t go back for the wedding. She loves her uncle and loves weddings and loves getting to see her extended family in general, so she was very excited. In fact, when we first decided that the trip was too risky my mom offered to fly out and get her for the week, but Sienna tearfully insisted she didn’t want to go without Mom and Dad. And truth be told, we were a little uneasy about being away from her for that long. She hasn’t stayed away from us overnight since she was a baby, and we really weren’t sure how any of us would handle the separation. So the decision was painfully and regretfully made to skip the wedding.
However, when confronted with the bitter reality that the wedding was taking place even though she wasn’t there, Sienna seemed to forget all her misgivings about being away from Mom and Dad. On the day of the rehearsal dinner, when we were on the phone with my mom, Sienna burst into tears and begged Mimi (that’s what she calls my mom) to come get her. After a few minutes of explanations and apologies and my poor mother feeling horrible we hung up. By this point Sienna was angry with me because, of course, this whole situation was my fault. Between sobs, she managed to ask, “Mommy, can you go ahead and go to heaven so Mimi can be my mommy?”
Under normal circumstances I might have calmly explained that I’m the only mother she’ll ever have and that she shouldn’t wish for people to go to heaven unless they are like, already dead. But I’m nearly nine months pregnant and was already severely bummed about missing my little brother’s wedding, so naturally I burst into tears. At the sight of me with my face buried in my knees (which at this point in pregnancy was quite a feat in itself), crying, Sienna became even more upset and started crying even harder. Then Charlotte, my one-year-old, who had been quietly playing in the other room, wandered in to see what all the fuss was about. Of course when she saw her sister and mother sitting side by side on the floor, wailing, she burst into tears as well.
At that point I managed to get ahold of myself long enough to comfort my children, explain to Sienna why she shouldn’t wish for me to be in heaven, and send them both out into the kitchen with some string cheese and Legos.
Then I went back into our bedroom to finish crying.
Somewhere in the midst of all these tears, though, I had a realization. I kept telling myself that she didn’t mean it and she was just upset, and then I thought back to my own childhood. When I was little I had a favorite aunt who used to spoil the dickens out of us. She bought us whatever we wanted when we came to visit, let us swim in their pool and eat hamburgers and drink sodas and stay up late watching PG-13 movies. I can remember many times wishing that she was my mother and…I meant it. At least, I meant it until midnight rolled around and I was laying awake in a sofa bed, wishing more than anything for my mom to curl up next to.
But that got me thinking about the nature of a parent’s love for a child. It’s a strange thing, and one I really believe you can’t understand until you’ve experienced it. What managed to calm me down wasn’t trying to convince myself that Sienna didn’t mean what she said, but realizing that she very well might have. And while it might hurt, it certainly doesn’t change anything about my love for her.
I think when people say that having children helps us understand God’s love for us, this is what they mean. The love of a parent is, or should be, expansive and rock-solid. I love my daughter enough to do what I think is best for her, even if it means not giving her what she wants, which it very often will. I love her enough to risk incurring her anger and even her hatred. I love her enough to want her to be good and to do right, even if those things come at the expense of her happiness, which I think we all know that they very often do.
It’s oddly comforting to know that your love for another human being will remain strong in spite of anything that person might do. It makes it easier to do what is right for them, instead of reacting emotionally to changes in your relationship.
Obviously, this is a lesson I’ve only just begun to learn, and one that I hope will bring with it a tear-free resistance to childish anger.