As I kiss and hug him goodbye and linger to see that his school day starts well, every cell in my body wills him to have a good day. The mommy voice in my head pleads Listen, focus, try. Have a good day, and please let your teacher be smiling when I pick you up. I cross my fingers, ask God to grant him a good day, and leave.
As they grow beyond their baby days, our children navigate the world with less and less of our assistance and protection. We trust them with a network of teachers, caregivers, coaches, tutors, and more—all people we invite into their lives—and pray that each of them sees our children as the wonders that they are and loves them as we do, warts and all.
Whether you’re four or 40, you have good days and bad days. We can all name someone who skipped naptime or missed snack or just doesn’t get how to share. And I’m talking about adults among us.
Name a bad behavior, and I bet we can all think of someone we’ve encountered who just needed a bit of kindness and a reminder that we don’t act that way; a time-out—perhaps with some coffee or wine or yoga—to recognize the error of their ways; or some thinking time, after which they apologize for whatever boorish act they committed. Some days, that someone just happens to be the one staring back in the mirror.
Adults aren’t labeled for an occasional outburst. Of course, we also don’t tend to hit others or put someone in a headlock because they won’t share something we desperately MUST have right this minute or the world will end. We follow the rules—most of the time. And we try to be nice.
That niceness means we’ll forgive a grownup (or maybe think a few bad thoughts about them) for whatever infraction and go on about our day without holding a grudge. But do we do the same with children? More importantly, do other adults do that with our children?
I wonder that on a constant basis as I watch my energetic, loving, inquisitive boy make his way in the world. You see, he’s out on his own more and more. Where I once carried him everywhere or held his little hand and was by his side to explain what he was saying/what he was doing/what he needed, he’s becoming his own little person who navigates his own little worlds: school, lunch buddies, play dates, swim lessons, and more.
He has his amazing days, when I watch him and my heart soars. Other big people compliment his behavior and remark at how polite/sweet/kind/cute he is. And I think, Yes, he is. Thank you for noticing!
And he has his less-than-stellar days that we trudge through, muddling along between bright spots with gentle reminders of what’s right or expected. He tries, sometimes get it wrong, course-corrects, and learns. And my heart hangs on every step, silently cheering him on, loving him all the same.
Then there are the days that don’t have a label. They leave you bone-achingly, mind-numbingly tired. Every single thing is a battle, and nothing seems to go the way you hoped or planned, even when you threw in the towel on the plan and just winged it. Your heart hurts for your child, and you wish you could make things go more smoothly. Everyone has those days—even if they don’t admit it.
Parenting is a journey of ups, downs, highs, lows, and a lot of just in between. But the lows can be lurchingly low, and the downs can oppressively weigh on you. As you watch your child struggle, your heart aches because you know the glory of the amazing days and what a gift this child is, through the good and the bad. You know his strengths outweigh his weaknesses. You know you can’t stop the down days, but wonder if other people look past them to see his brilliant light that is temporarily obscured by whatever infraction, mania, or meltdown that has interrupted, or filled, the days.
Does his new teacher understand his quirks and idiosyncrasies that, at this tender age, are beyond his control?
Does the classroom aide help him when he gets frustrated with what he can’t do just yet, soothing that frustration to reassure him and help him move forward?
When the aching “need” for the cool car/dinosaur/toy that someone else is playing with overwhelms the angel on his shoulder and he grabs it without asking or waiting his turn—and endures the resulting time-out—is all forgiven, or is there a permanent mental mark against him?
We pray that the scorecard is reset when a good day blooms. When a bad day inevitably rears its head, we hope that the good outweighs the bad and keeps the scorecard in his favor.
Our children are more than how well they follow the line leader, how neatly they write their name, or how quietly they sit through chapel. When they can’t be quiet, maybe they’re not being disrespectful but are just so excited to tell everyone something they just learned or saw that they have to get it out. They’ll learn. Some adults aren’t so great at being quiet, taking turns, or sharing, but we all work on it.
Our children are still learning how to navigate the big world and need kindness, love, and patience to find their path. The road map is different for everyone, but the final destination—a healthy, happy life where the amazing days outnumber the bad and we learn to appreciate the quiet stillness of the in-between—is one we all hope for.
Or at least that’s what I hope for my child. And that along the way, everyone can see—and appreciate—all of who he is, the light that beams on even those down days. And that no matter what, that they’re smiling when I pick him up.