"Go hard on me, mom," declares eight-year-old, Robby, as we prepare to play one-on-one soccer in our back yard. I chuckle at his words for I know how much has changed in a few short years.
Just a few years ago I was holding back, running barely behind him as he kicked and darted toward the ball all the way up the yard to score a goal. On occasion, I enjoyed hassling him, weaseling the ball away just to make him work harder and he'd complain that I was not going easy enough on him.
In just a few short years, he's grown and changed so much. He's more mature, able to control his emotions, and more athletically coordinated. We communicate, relate and laugh together and it wasn't even that long ago I sat up nights nursing and rocking him back to sleep.
One of those mid-nights–within the first week of bringing him home from the hospital–I had nursed him, changed his diaper, and swaddled him snug. When I went to lay him back down, he continued to fuss. As a new mother, I didn't know what to do for him. Weary and exhausted, I remember my anxiety rising that night. I had abruptly flung his blanket back open, re-swaddled him, and brought him close to my chest again. I then breathed deep and like a tide rushing in, felt wisdom wash over me that would linger throughout my parenting years, not for one but for four children throughout infancy, toddlerhood, and into childhood:
Don't become frustrated, Theresa. This is just a season. You'll never have him this small again. Yes, you will lose sleep. It will be hard. But it will pass. These moments you'll find are gifts. Receive them.
I’ve surely become frustrated over the years, regarding children and sleep. Yet I cannot recall another night that I hovered a sweet infant, feeling frustrated over my sense of helplessness. Not one since that vivid internal monologue. And I've had many sleepless nights and those nights did pass.
I encounter different frustrations and feelings of helplessness now, as a mother in a whole new season of life, and the never ending question remains, how do I choose to contend with those frustrations?
And I wonder if what made a difference eight years ago can make a difference today.
What if we refused? What if we took a deep breath and decided we're not going to let weariness, frustration, and feelings of helplessness overtake our peace. We won't allow those emotions, that so easily creep in, to dictate our behavior. I wonder how it would change our parenting; how we see our children.
Because we'll never have them as small and impressionable as they are right now, ever again. Yes, we will lose sleep over them. It will be hard. But it will pass. What if these moments are gifts, even the hard ones? Will we receive them?
Today he dances with the ball over the winter withered grass, maneuvering fancy feet. He kicks the ball passed me and goes for the goal.
When we choose to see the bigger picture, the greater goal and desired outcome, our frustrations become small. When we accept that it will be hard; that cultivating the lives of our children will take labor, sacrifice, time and perseverance, we may just bounce back quicker when we stumble–because we will.
"Good game, mom. That was fun!" Robby exclaims. "Thanks for playing with me."
And I think I also hear, "Thanks for being patient with me through the years. Thanks for your dedication, perseverance, and for believing in me. Thanks for upholding me with dignity and respect even though I'm smaller than you and dad. Thanks for laughing with me, and for loving me no matter what."
And I think about the little things that never really mattered. And the things that do.