It's not that I have a problem with my age. It's just that I never quite feel like my age has afforded me the wisdom needed in dealing with them.
Tuesday, my 5 year old decided to pull one over on me. We have allowed our small children what my husband refers to as "mental health days" - days in which they are not sick, but for whatever reason they need to stay home with mom. All of our children have required these days in their early school careers, but this one decided to abuse the privilege.
She used one of these days on Friday and went to school late on Monday after a doctor's appointment. On Tuesday morning I struggled to wake her. Wondering if she might be coming down with something, I allowed her to continue sleeping. As soon as the other children left, she got up and began to play.
"Get dressed so I can take you to school." I said.
"I have a headache." was her matter of fact reply.
"If you are too sick to go to school, you are too sick to play." I quickly informed her, and I sent her back to bed. She lay in her bed listening to Patch the Pirate CDs for a couple of hours until she could not sit there any longer and started begging to go to school.
"Sometimes I ask God why he gave me this very strong willed child at the end of my family when I am old and tired." I added.
"You're not old!" She announced in surprise (she is about the same age I am).
"No. But I will be when she is a teenager!"
We attend a country church that is really more the size of a city church because the need is so great in this rural area. We have two young, energetic youth pastors who plan a plethora of activities that range from entertaining to thought provoking in order to cover the tastes and interests of the 100 - 200 youth that attend.
As you can probably guess, my teenagers want to do EVERYTHING.
In addition to the youth events at church, I am inundated with papers that come home from school encouraging them to be involved in sports, plays, music and many other activities.
As you can probably guess, my kids want to do EVERYTHING.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to do everything!
Because we have so many children, we work very hard to be an "equal-opportunity" household - which means, for example, that sometimes we have to reign in little miss wants-to-try-anything so that little miss happy-to-stay-at-home can do the one and only thing she has asked to do. My husband and I evaluate all of the possibilities, and narrow it down to what is practical for us because, not only are we committed to fairness, but we also are determined not to run ourselves and our children ragged trying to do everything.
Oh. And did I mention that most of these things cost money?
We are very blessed to have a good income in an area where the slogan is "half the pay for a look at the bay," but sometimes I think that my kids are so blessed that they begin to expect all of the blessings afforded to them, rather than to see each and every one as a blessing and be thankful for them.
This week we have a youth group event that happens to be one of the things that did not make its way onto the family calendar.
My husband has encouraged me to join the youth ministry since I enjoy being involved in ministry although half of the time I wonder if I am in the right place because I have no idea what to say - I was never a teenager myself.
Of course I was.
I just mean that my mom was diagnosed with cancer when I was 13. Understanding the brevity of the situation, I took on some of the adult responsibilities in the home. Over the course of a year or two, she became well and tried to give me back my childhood but by then I was too "sophisticated," and had decided that teenage antics were beneath me.
At any rate, I was there this Wednesday when I was approached by my one of my children, followed by both of our youth pastors asking if they could help to make arrangements for this child to attend the event. I felt like a deer in the headlights, though there was nothing particularly intimidating about these smiling young men.
Soon the program started and my teenager joined the group. I was still shaken, and went to the quiet room and called my husband. I recounted the situation as he tried to calm me down, offering to explain the decision to the youth pastors if I was too flustered to do so. (While I would not go so far as to say that I avoid confrontation at all costs, I certainly do try to avoid it, and, though this was far removed from a truly confrontational moment, I felt just as intimidated by it).
I went back into the sanctuary and sat alone where I could pray about how to handle it and calm myself down. One of my best friends is also involved in the ministry and, seeing me alone, came over to talk to me. "Why can't teenagers take NO for an answer!?!" I agonized as I explained the situation.
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This morning I realized that a chore that should have been done yesterday had been overlooked and asked the responsible child to complete the task before leaving for school. The response was neither cheerful, nor immediate. A few minutes later, I asked again and received a lovely retort to the effect of, "So you wait until Dad leaves, and THEN tell me!"
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As I made the beds this morning, a blog post I read on Wednesday came to mind. The author talks about having to say no to her teenagers because she is looking forward into their lives and making decisions not only for their immediate self, but also for their ultimate self - the person they will become. I was thinking about it Wednesday night when I realized that it was crucial to reinforce the "No," rather than to allow my child to use intimidation to pressure me.
Suddenly it occurred to me that it is not really age that gives wisdom. It is experience acquired with age, and the ability to learn along the way. I have all of these other children to teach me how to handle difficult moments and learn how to strengthen my resolve so that when my delightful little miss strong-willed is a teenager, I will have the wisdom to know how to parent her.
Maybe God knew what he was doing after all...
P.S. It occurred to me that this story could be misunderstood as a complaint. It is not. My strong willed five-year-old is completely delightful, the chore was completed promptly, and my child was vying for more time at CHURCH! I just know the temptation that we bloggers often have to portray ourselves in a better light than what is true. Our children are not perfect. Our parenting skills are not better than those of everyone else. We are all in the fray together. I just wanted to show how true this really is.