“My butterfly shirt, Mama. Butterflies! Purple butterflies. I wear my butterfly shirt.” Charlotte chants to me as I hold up another outfit (not the butterfly shirt).
“Why don’t we wear your new flower shirt? The one you picked out with daddy.” I say with a slightly pleading voice.
“My butterfly shirt, please, Mama?” At least she’s asking politely. But how many days can she wear the same shirt, really? It’s only day three at the moment. Charlotte knows what she likes and what she wants to wear. For now, she’s on a rotation of clothes: a purple butterfly shirt, a purple unicorn dress, a pink Easter dress with a bow that spins, and her Paw Patrol pajamas. And repeat.
Each morning I brace myself for the task of getting her dressed. And each morning if it’s not one of the above-mentioned pieces of clothing, a meltdown ensues. A full-out meltdown complete with tears, screams, arms flailing down the hallways as she runs to the corner of her room. Some days I relent, allowing her to wear the pink Easter dress for a hike in the woods, and other days I pull on a new outfit as the tears come falling.
I see the teardrops fall from her eyes and watch as she tries to catch her breath. I grab her for an embrace and want to tell her: remember this, Charlotte. Remember the emotions compelling you to cry, scream, and slam doors. Remember the strength of those feelings, the wellspring of tears, and the righteous anger and use it for good. Feel it all. Bring it with you into the world where you will be forced to do things that scare you. Be brave. Take these strong opinions you have of clothes and turn them into strong opinions caring for your neighbor and this planet. Feel so deeply for others who are hurting that you hurt, too.
Remember this about your heart—it is big and joyful and all-encompassing for this world and all its people.
For a few minutes, breakfast is calm. And quiet. Plastic colored spoons move smoothly from oatmeal bowls to mouths.
Lifting the spoon to his mouth and holding it for all to see, Isaac smiles, “Oatmeal! Strawblueberries,” his word for both strawberries and blueberries. “Happy party!” he yells lifting his spoon even higher. I quickly reach for his spoon willing the oatmeal not to slide off to the floor or his clean clothes. “NO!” He tells me and moves the spoon further away flinging the food across the table.
“Oh no, Isaac,” I say trying to be calm. “We don’t throw. Give me the spoon.”
Charlotte now takes her spoon and follows suit,”Happy party!” Cueing Isaac’s laughter.
“There’s no playing with your food. Give me the spoons.”
A chorus of nos rises while I notice the all-too-familiar look in Isaac’s eyes. I try to be quicker than he is and take his bowl away, but I’m too slow. He grabs his bowl and pushes it across the table. “I throw!”
Finding it hard to speak calmly with oatmeal scattered across the table, I speak slowly, “I know you threw that. We don’t throw.” This time I’m quicker than he is and grab his milk cup before he can throw it, too.
It’s not only breakfast though, but blocks and trains and balls. If he doesn’t get his way, beware of flying objects. His not-yet-two-year-old mind can’t process his powerful emotions in a way that doesn’t involve throwing when what he wants doesn’t match what I want for him.
With every tantrum, with every overturned cup leaking on the floor, with every block that barely misses my glasses, I want to tell him: remember this, Isaac. Sometimes you won’t always get your way. There will be days when you’ve worked for something and it still isn’t given to you. And on other days you’ll be compelled to give in to someone else because it’ll be the right thing to do. These strong emotions are part of you. They’ll help you work hard for the dreams you have, but they’ll also allow you to recognize when to let others take the lead.
With the setting sun, I hear the final restlessness of the day fading from both kids’ bedrooms. Looking to the monitor Isaac’s thumb is nestled in his mouth and his legs scrunched beneath him. I see him make a final wiggle into the perfect spot before his eyes close and stillness takes over. Next door Charlotte holds her book propped up on her knees, her hands too tired to keep it upright. “One more book, Mama, then light off.” I hear her chanting into the air. After finishing her latest favorite book, Paw Patrol, she gets up and returns it to the shelf before rushing to the light switch.
“My light off, Mama,” I hear her say as she runs into her bed pulling the blankets over her body. For her, too there are a few final movements and then the placing of her hands under her cheek, her preferred sleeping position, before she gets still and sleep overtakes her tired eyes.
For a few minutes, I watch them both. Asleep and calm.
Remember this, I say to myself.
Remember these children. Their silent, sleeping bodies. Their breath that gives them life. Remember that they’ve been entrusted to me, these precious gifts of God. They are mine to care for and love, to fill with courage and hope. To teach and to open myself to the wisdom they impart.
Remember this, I smile.
Remember these children as they are now, and how they’re being formed to change the world.
This post originally appeared on the author’s blog
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