A few days ago I read a post from a friend that went like this: “10 years ago I was an arrogant mom who thought parenting was easy. The next day, God sent me Chloe.”
God didn’t send me Chloe, but He sent me Erin.
I’m convinced that every parent who struts around thinking that they’ve mastered the art of parenting gets it back in their face at some point. It might be that second infant, or that fifth teenager. For me, it was that second infant: the girl who screamed in anger from the moment she was born until she reached the age of five months. Colin, the infant who slept through the night at one-week old and rarely cried, was a set-up. Sometimes, God sends the proud people like me something (or someone) that catapults us to the top so that we can get a good crash to the bottom – just in time to save us from ourselves. My mother used to smirk when I left her detailed instructions on how to care for the newborn Colin.
“Did it ever cross your mind,” she said one evening with a smile and clenched teeth, “that I just might know how to do this?”
No. That didn’t occur to me. I had been the pregnant woman who saturated herself in parenting books. I studied up on the subject. I absorbed and put into practice everything in those books. I continued to to read them after the baby was born, and the result was – voila! – a successful outcome. Baby was happy, content, predictable, low-maintenance, and hitting all developmental milestones on target. I continued to write out detailed instructions for my mother when she kept him, despite the fact that she worked in a preschool program with infants and toddlers for over a decade.
We were flying so high with this task of parenting that we were absolutely eager to do it again. In fact, when Colin was 10 months old we were surprised, but yet delighted to be pregnant. Another angel was on the way. I brushed up on the parenting books and even bought some new ones. More information! More ways to succeed!
On November 24, 1991, I had a baby girl. Not just any baby girl, but the angriest baby girl within screaming distance. My first moments of gazing into her newborn face involved trying to discern what she actually looked like without the purple skin, wide open mouth and tightly closed eyes. I saw this face quite a bit for the first five months. And for five months I heard the screams. (Most notably every hour and a half throughout the night). And for five months I walked her around the house to quiet those screams. (She hated to be rocked…of course.) Her older brother delivered his opinion about the new baby by dropping a stack of his Tales of Peter Rabbit books on her head one morning. “Go, baby,” he proclaimed.
At the worst moments of our first months with our daughter, we felt the same way. Could someone else take her? Anyone? And why was this child so angry? Didn’t she know we were self-taught, highly-educated parenting experts? Apparently, she didn’t know this. And for five months she taught us that we had been completely and sadly mistaken about our brilliance. She made sure we understood that the first child was not a product of our parental achievements. He was just Colin. And she was Erin. And we better get that straight and start our descent down into the muck of real-world parenting.
So we toppled down off our high horse a bit.
And, thank you God, we’ve continued that descent with every stage of parenting.
Somewhere around 1998 I tossed all my parenting books. I had kept them in a box for many years, and had even purchased a few new ones along the way, but I never could get around to really digesting them. I scanned them, but honestly, I didn’t need the guilt that would begin to creep in long about Chapter Two. I began to realize that my children were individuals. God created them and he had given Kyle and I the privilege of raising them. Between all of us, we were working it out day by day. Instead of reaching for another parenting book, I began to fall on my knees and proclaim my inadequacy, then plead with God to fill in the holes, redeem the mistakes, cover for my ignorance, and forgive my subtle arrogance. My children have continued to teach us that we know very little, and along the way it seems that we write our own unique parenting books. There is no how-to book about raising Colin that would translate into a how-to book for raising just any kid. And I can assure the same goes for Erin. And now, we’re learning even more and experiencing fresh doses of humility daily as we raise Alison. My parenting book is simply a journal of mistakes made, lessons learned, and a prayer of thanks for the grace I’m given.
Like most good stories, this one has a surprising twist: the angry little baby grew up into the most amazingly content young woman. And the perfect infant has been determined to become a think-for-himself young man. We beam with pride when we look at all of our children, but we’re careful not to take the credit. We give the credit to God and thank Him for the continued tumble downward. It is only then that we can look upward and take His guiding hand.
A few years before my mother died, she pulled from a box an old instruction note I left her one evening when she was caring for the infant Colin. My handwriting was clear, block letters and the words were written in embarrassingly simplistic details – as if my mother were a young teenage babysitter.
“I kept this note to show to you one day,” she said without the clenched teeth and with a gentle smile. “Just so you could remember.”
My mother, so wise, knew that someday her daughter would grow up and grow out of knowing everything. She knew that God would humble me, because she had been humbled herself. It seems to be the way it goes. And so, we continue to write our own parenting books, crumpling pages, tossing sections, and starting brand new chapters as we stumble along.