Her toddler brow furrowed; her lips pursed. If this were an animated Disney film, the blonde Shirley Temple curls framing her face would have straightened into lethal electrified spikes as she opened her mouth.
“I WANT TO BITE THE BANANA!!!”
I don’t know if I counted to ten (doubtful) or clenched my teeth (more likely) or turned red with rage (probable), but I’m certain I remained determined to win the Battle of Wills with this three year old alien-possessed angel child. Because “do you want me to cut the banana or leave it whole so you can bite it?” seems like a rational question, does it not? And when said alien asks for her banana to be cut, that sounds like a reasonable request, right? But when a three year old changes her mind, after the fact? Well. Batten down the hatches and secure yourself under the nearest doorframe, my friends, because Tornado Toddler is about to unfurl her wrath.
I remember thinking, “Oh, dear Lord. This child is possessed!” My sweet-faced, affectionate, kind-hearted baby girl had entered The Age of Threes, and ushering me to the pearly gates of STYWOM.
Yet somehow, we both survived, and when her two younger brothers followed her footsteps through All Manner of Alienness, I was somewhat prepared. Somewhat, not completely. It was not fun.
(Clearly, whoever coined the term “terrible twos” did not yet have a three year old.)
So here I stand, a survivor, tentatively stepping into the next realm of parenthood: teenagers.
I wish I could tell you that I’m confident, that having survived toddlerhood prepared me for anything, for the worst. I wish I could tell you that it gets better. It does, for a while. Then you do it all over again, only this time on a more intense, emotional level, with higher stakes. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Parenting a toddler means physical exhaustion. You are constantly doing something for somebody because they need you and can’t do a rippin’ thing for themselves…or if they can, it takes twenty-seven times as long as it would if you did it for them. You’re so exhausted from ALL THE WORDS and All The Things that it’s just easier to put her jacket on her yourself instead of waiting for her to take the sleeve off her foot and MY do it!
Parenting a teenager means a constant stream of push and pull, give and take, enforcing boundaries and letting her go. And convincing her to use descriptive words that don’t involve grunting, that you aren’t a complete idiot and actually know a few things about making good decisions and acting appropriately.
Parenting a teenager means helplessly standing nearby as insecurity attacks her heart like a cancer, destroying her joy, stealing her smile. You can cautiously, gently offer encouragement, occasionally advice. You can tell her it won’t always be this hard, that she’s not the only one who has these feelings. But mostly, you simply listen.
Parenting a teenager means realizing she will leave home very, very soon—and hoping you’ve done enough good things to outweigh all the moments she will have to sort out with a therapist.
Parenting a teenager will suck the very life from your soul.
As with toddlerhood, though, there are times when I thoroughly enjoy my teenager. I’d venture to say even most of the time, she is a delight, a joy, a mature and responsible and talented young woman with a killer sense of humor. She is kind and generous and compassionate, poised to serve and change the world. Most of the time, most days, I feel relief in having raised such an incredible girl.
Other days, I want to pop open a bottle of wine and drive the corkscrew through my eyeball…after finishing the bottle of wine, of course.
Once again, I’m convinced my child is possessed. This is not who I raised you to be! Knock it off! And for the love of all that is worthy of your attention, put down your friggin’ phone and ENGAGE!
There is nothing new under the sun.
“Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly”…the woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. (Matthew 15:22,25)
She chased him down. She begged. Unrelenting, unwavering, desperate cries for mercy. Help me!
The disciples rolled their eyes. “Tell her to go away,” they said, “she’s bothering us.”
He ignored her. (What?!) Maybe because he wanted her to ask again, maybe because he wanted her faith and determination to increase. I don’t know. This passage makes me squirm. I don’t like it. I don’t understand it. Jesus’ response does not line up with my neat-and-tidy, black-and-white, Sunday school felt board picture. If I were in charge, this story would take a different angle.
And, for the record, he ignored the disciples, too. Maybe he just needed a break from All The Words and All The Whining. I so get that.
She kept asking. She begged for his help. She begged for the crumbs of a miracle that would be swept off the table. That would be enough to restore her daughter.
Meghan spent her entire winter break in the downstairs guest bedroom or in a borrowed wheelchair. Eleven years of ballet turned both her knees into big nasty balls of inflamed mess, so she had surgery to clean them up. Not a huge deal, but once her orthopedist got inside her knees with his little scopey thingy, he found they were much worse than he originally thought. We had hoped she would be bouncing around again after two or three weeks, but no. Recovery is taking its sweet time.
I have to confess something here: as much as I love having a brave, strong, independent daughter, I kinda love her still needing me. I kinda love taking care of her: getting toast and hot tea, bags of ice, bowls of fruit, and drugs. (Lord, yes, the drugs!) I love when she smiles and mumbles in a codeine-induced stupor, “thanks, Mommy” and closes her eyes. I love that she finally realizes she still needs me—at least until she can walk.
We’ve intentionally raised our kids not to need us, which is definitely a good thing, except when it bites us in the butt. If I hear I got this, Mom one more time, I might engage the aforementioned corkscrew. Seriously. It’s a three year old, masquerading as a fourteen year old, pretending to be a twenty year old…without a driver’s license and ability to be legally employed. Do you really “got this”?
Please. Also: eye rolling, long sighs, attempted domination of accuracy and correctness, fine, whatever, stop it, I hate family time.
I much prefer “thanks, Mommy”—so I’m soaking it in while it lasts.
Still, it’s hard to see your baby in pain. Stupid knees. Ice helps, ibuprofen helps, physical therapy helps, but complete healing has not yet come. It will. But it hasn’t yet.
So we pray. Earnestly, expectantly, hope-fully. We pray for her knees to be strong, for the pain to subside.
We pray for healing for her knees, but more importantly, healing for her heart.
I pray that in between Netflix and YouTube and the ginormous stack of YA novels, she will hear God’s voice disproving the lies she has come to believe: that she is not enough, that she is too much, that she doesn’t matter. I pray that God will give her the faith to know and believe she is who he says she is. I pray he will give her vision for all he wants to do in her and through her. I pray she will regain her confidence, her self-worth, her joy. Because really, so much of the push-back and misery and incredulity she dishes out stems from a fearful heart trying to navigate a scary world.
I pray her heart will heal.
My daughter is suffering terribly…help me!
It’s the desperate plea of a desperate mother. Because the piece of her heart living outside her body is broken, hurting, wilted, bruised. And only he can help.
“Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed.
It almost sounds like this is the worst season of life ever. No, not at all, really. It’s challenging, it’s tiring, it’s frustrating. But it is also tremendously rewarding and fun and exciting. During the past three weeks—while Meghan has been stuck inside, hobbling around, wincing with each step, each movement—we have had time to sit and talk, sharing secrets and many tightly gripped hugs where I won’t let go first, lots of giggles and guffaws and squishy kisses on the cheek. In her forced break from the world, she has relaxed into the safe space that we share together. I’m not so bad after all. I’m actually pretty handy to have around. Her laugh is sweeter than honey, and I’m storing these days in my heart like Mary, tiny snapshots of moments to remember.
There’s a house down the street that lost its second story last fall to a horrendous fire. Slowly, they’re rebuilding. We now see beams of wood, a frame, and the skeleton of a roof. Also, a big ugly dumpster in the yard, lots of scraps, lots of chaos. It’s the picture of redemption: God taking something burned up, burned out, unlivable, and making it into something beautiful. It’s a messy process, and it’s his favorite job. Darkness into light, ashes into beauty, water into wine. I smile every time I drive past this house. I kinda love that.
It’s my daughter’s story, rough draft, on the editor’s desk, continually being written and rewritten, torn down and rebuilt, created and recreated.
So with each moment, each day, I pray. Help me and heal her, knowing he will, knowing she will eventually walk with confidence and without pain.
And knowing that someday, blessed someday, her daughter will request her own friggin’ sliced banana…