Last night I stood in the back of my church sanctuary – holding one of my precious twins – and cried uncontrollably as I watched my four-year-old sing Silent Night with her classmates.
About twenty of them total – three and four-years-old – dressed up like kings and shepherds, stars and angels…My sweet Bianca was dressed like an angel with beautiful wings dipped in gold sequins that sparkled in the sunset flowing through the stained glass windows.
Tears fell as I imagined this entire group of children – innocent, precocious and full of life – erased from this canvas. Then I watched their teachers, Miss Tracy and Miss Laura, patiently guide our children through their song… And I imagined them being gone too. And in an instant, the entire sanctuary had been transformed. Because if you took these people away, you immediately amputated a part of every person in the audience…
And then my thoughts drifted to Robbie Parker, the brave father of Emilie Parker, who somehow found the strength to step in front of the news cameras to tell the world about his beautiful little girl only hours after learning of her horrific death in Sandy Creek Elementary School. I thought about how Robbie somehow found the compassion to offer his condolences to the shooter’s family – letting the world know that the only way to survive this tragedy would be through forgiveness and love.
And as I thought of Robbie Parker and his sweet Emilie I cried not only for them, but also for the events that had happened earlier in the day at my own house….
To say that my daughter’s End-of-the-Year school program was a disaster last spring would be a vast understatement. We’d hyped this performance up for weeks, inviting extended family in for the festivities.
Bianca and I had walked to school the night of the recital – her in her bright blue shirt and yellow headband, me following her with my camera. We sang We’re Following the Leader as I marched behind her, grinning ear-to-ear.
We got to church (the place she was baptized, where she attended her first vacation bible school, a place she should feel completely safe) and I left her in the all-purpose room with her teachers and classmates taking my spot in the front of the sanctuary so I could record her performance.
The back doors of the sanctuary opened, and I immediately heard a collective Awww as moms and dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles caught first glimpses of their little ones.
But the wind was knocked out of my sail as I watched Bianca approach the front of the sanctuary with tears rolling down her flush cheeks. What happened? I wondered as my mind raced. She was fine twenty minutes ago….
These are the moments that make you wish there were some sort of Parenting 101 that was mandatory before the hospital allowed you to bring your child home…. Like there was a professor at the hospital grading your exam at the exit doors before allowing you to leave with this most important, super-fragile, human being you’re now responsible for nurturing, guiding, teaching, loving…No Pressure!
They probably don’t offer that class, because they know the majority of us would fail miserably…. Because parenting is the NUMBER ONE example of On-the-Job training….
The truth is, none of us…. even that Super Nanny from Great Britain…. have a clue when it comes to these snap-decision, last-second-play moments.
As I watched Bianca’s procession into the church, I proceeded to run through what I have since come to refer to as the Four-Stages of Stage Fright Damage Control…
1) Avoidance & Denial – Yep, I sure did continue to smile and videotape as my daughter decomposed on stage, holding her little flag up over her face to try to conceal her tears instead of waving it like her classmates… her little shoulders shaking uncontrollably.
2) Consoling – After what felt like twenty minutes of this (I’m pretty sure it was more like twenty seconds) I realized I could no longer ignore my child…. So I rushed to the front of the sanctuary and knelt in front of her. It’s all okay, Bianca…. Mommy’s here
3) Bribery – After several attempts to utilize my sweetest, most-understanding voice – I realized she wasn’t buying it…. So I immediately shifted gears and began whispering that I would buy her pretty much anything she wanted as long as she would stop crying and participate in her program…. Now if that’s not Grade-A parenting, I don’t know what is!
4) Anger – (The following is not my proudest parenting moment) By the time I realized nothing was working; it was time for Bianca to pair-up with her partner for part of the program. Obviously that wasn’t happening, so here stood one of her classmates wanting to participate…. with no partner. I was so mad – and looking back, six months later, I’m still mad. But now my anger has shifted onto myself.
Why on Earth was I upset with a THREE-YEAR-OLD for having stage fright? I’ll tell you why, because I thought it reflected poorly on me. If I’m being totally honest with myself, I have to admit that I was worried about what other people were going to think or say. Awww, that poor little girl. I wonder what’s wrong with her? I wonder what her parents are like? As I write this I realize even more vividly the absurdity of my thoughts. But that’s what happens sometimes when we’re parenting, we don’t think rationally.
Looking back, I should have done things so much different. Like getting up on stage and making a complete fool of myself in order to make my little girl feel comfortable. Or, just rescuing her from the stage and pulling her down onto the floor with me where she could have watched or participated from a much less threatening vantage point – without hundreds of people staring at her.
So when the calendar rolled around to Bianca’s Christmas program, my husband and I joked that we weren’t inviting anyone…. We just didn’t want Bianca to feel any pressure this time around. We were downplaying the whole thing –so it wouldn’t be a big deal if she decided not to participate.
But Bianca seemed really excited as the event approached, practicing her songs as she frolicked through the house, so we decided to invite our parents. We talked to Bianca about her program, and she insisted that she wanted to sing and dance with her classmates.
And here we were… The Big Day had finally arrived. I was much wiser now – learning from the events six months ago, right? WRONG!
Bianca began acting-out as I tried to get her dressed. You know, the normal kicking as you try to get them in their panty hose, thrashing as you try to fasten their shoes, threatening that they’re Gonna Scream if you don’t stop!
I tried to remain calm, diverting Bianca’s attention by asking her to practice singing her songs for me… That went over like a ton of bricks as she fell to the floor and insisted I do NOT know the words to Away in a Manger.
I finally got her into her white tights and tank top, which was like dressing an alligator, and we moved in to the bathroom where I attempted to give her two French braids. Do you know how difficult it is to French braid a head as it rotates like Linda Blair’s in the Exorcist? If you’re the mother of a four-year-old girl, I bet you do.
I was quickly reaching the end of my rapidly fraying rope when Bianca looked at me in the mirror and said, “I don’t want to go to my program!”
Did I say she said that she didn’t want to go to her program? What I meant to say was she screamed, whined, cried…
What happened next is another one of those parenting moments I am less than proud of…
I clenched Bianca’s braid, put my lips down by her ear and proceeded to tell her – in a less than loving tone – that she was going to PERFORM in her program…or ELSE!
As I raised my eyes back up to the mirror, I caught a glimpse of my daughter fighting to hold back her tears… And I saw an ugly mother staring back at me… And then I saw Robbie Parker… What would Robbie Parker give for one more Christmas program with his little girl? I thought before becoming completely unglued.
I wrapped my arms around Bianca, carried her to the toilet where I rocked her as I repeatedly apologized. “You don’t have to do your program if you don’t want to, Bianca,” I cried. “You can sit in the pew with me if you want to.”
“I’m sorry for being a bad girl, mommy,” Bianca cried too. “I’ll sing in my program.”
And sing she did. Not animated and loud like some of her classmates, but quietly and reserved – in her own voice. She shook her jingle bells, she rumpa pum pummed her drum, and she sang Silent Night – as I stood in the back of the sanctuary and cried.
I have no doubt that every parent out there tonight feels an indescribable feeling of sadness for all of the families in Newtown, wondering how in the world their lives will ever go on after such horrific tragedy…But I also know every parent out there has felt like they were at their wits end while dealing with their testy child – on more than one occasion.
And it is a very difficult position to be in… As parents we want more than anything to cherish every second with our children. But we also want to guide them and shape them into mature, respectful human beings. And sometimes that means we have to discipline them, which means – at least for a brief moment – we are not their favorite person.
On a daily basis I pray that God gives me patience while dealing with the ‘melt-down moments’ happening on a regular basis in my house. But I also thank God daily for bringing these miracles into my life.
I heard a quote recently that said, “Be child-like, not childish.” I think that sums up what I need to keep in mind while parenting. Bianca is child-like when she acts out, speaks up and jumps around like a wild banshee. I have to remember not to be childish while parenting to that.
And I think we can all agree that after the horrible events in Newtown, the most important piece of parenting advice we can take away is to make sure we tell our children how much we love them…even if we might not like them very much at the moment.