Not for the Faint of Heart

So I just read some Nicholas Sparks saccharine sweet hallmark card of a blog post (time lapse family photos included) about how family is a “verb,” not a noun. And I feel compelled to announce to no one in particular that sometimes, posts like these make me throw up in my mouth just a little bit. I know that there is a niche of the world that needs this kind of one size fits all bubbly positivity, (kind of like it needs a selfie). But then again… some of us are pretty clear that family IS a noun. If you want to be poetic, feel free to claim love as your verb. That is actually grammatical, and the word you (sugary sweet blog writer to whom I refer) are trying to replace in an attempt to be profound. I get profound, but it should be used in an honest, accurate context. Like, for example, family can be profoundly painful and complicated. Children can be a profound pain in the butt, and moms can be profoundly overwhelmed by the amount of items in a house that are never returned to their proper places, and the amount of attitudes that are never set back to zero, no matter what internet and self help book desperation fueled consequences and strategies you come up with.

When I started reading this, shall we put it, “other blog,” the title sucked me in. “When family breaks your heart.” It starts out by mentioning a 10 year old, and I was sucked in. Oh boy, another family with a preteen girl who is pulling at the loose thread of her family, unraveling the whole thing with each small pick and pull. Except no. This is a bait and switch tactic-give us a meaty title and then sucker punch us with some rhetoric about how “Parenting isn’t overwhelming when we simply understand how to serve in this minute.” And this is where I throw up my hands and think, “Hey Bee-atch!” (i.e. nice christian lady with the bad grammar and the good intentions), your kids must not have an attention deficit! They must not have fetal alcohol effect, or issues with abandonment, or parents struggling with finances or depression or loneliness so big that even the little things feel like elephants. So ERASE that title and don’t play quite so fast and loose with the platitudes. Maybe in your world, every time you do the hard things, “you’re building the family you always wanted to have.” Lucky you. Count those blessings along with your ten year old’s candles, and understand the full volume of your blessing. Because here, in honor of Father’s Day, is the truly true truth and math equation.

Doing your best does not always, (and I’m estimating at best only sometimes) brings about the desired results between imperfect people in an imperfect world. If marriage or parenting teaches us anything, it’s that your best is incomprehensible to me, because my best looks so different, and therefore, even in our best attempts we get it wrong or interpret it incorrectly. My best looks like a clean floor, while your best looks like a fuller bank account or a jammy kiss. Yuck. Get a napkin. Understand me enough to know I’m OCD and can’t tolerate the mess, while I do everything in my power to tolerate yours (and still lose my mind on a fairly frequent basis). I give you peace, you give me security, and what should be our mutual gratitude falls into the cracks of incomprehension. It’s amazing how much humans can talk without ever communicating. Our expectations are what will sink us.

If doing the “hard things” will “give us the family (we) always wanted to have,” we would not have to be cautioned by the most overused bible verse of all time. You know it; it’s the one you hear at 70% of the weddings you’ve ever attended. Of course we love to say it in the beginning, when our husbands are still careful with our feelings, and wives are still accommodating and solicitous (if they ever were; I know you resent my stereotypes. Feel free to insert your own).

Before the tiny soft babies turn into stinky defiant toddlers, and then teenagers. Before spouses get sick or we go broke or your kid tells you she wants to live with her “real” mom. The verb is a verb, and it is profound, and it must be enough. It has to be, because there’s nothing else to give. The verb tells us to be patient, to be kind; to not yell about the “accidentally” broken faucet that was used to open the coconut, or the tiny rubberbands that breed like bunnies in corners, or the piles of dirty clothes shoved in the back of the closet. Maybe that’s not your kryptonite, but I bet you’ve got some.

It tells us to not envy; to not to roll my eyes at the kitchen remodel or the Disneyland trip or the 3rd child featured on your Facebook page. I’m working on it, I promise. The verse reminds us that the verb doesn’t boast and it isn’t proud. And what does that mean? It means you’re wrong, but I’m apologetic. Because the verb does NOT have to be right. The verb says love the relationship more than winning. Love the person more than the principal. If that means that my daughter needs to tell me that she sometimes wants to live with her “other mother,” the verb says hold her, and hug her, and tell her that when she runs away, you will bring her back. Tell her that you understand, because the verb can hold her pain as well as your own. You’re not in it for the title, you’re in it for her.

Haley and daddy at the dock

The verb says not to dishonor others, and the verb is pointing it’s finger at me. Because if pride is your kryptonite, dishonour is mine. It’s so easy to make fun, and so hard to resist the urge. Sorry bubbly blog lady. You of course are entitled to your attempts to reconstruct the English Language. (but btw, if I don’t love you, am I off the hook for dishonour?)

And the verb keeps asking for more. It saves the heaviest lifting for last. Which seems like a bad plan, because we all remember the frothy fuzzy first part “LOVE is patient, LOVE is kind,”and kind of forget about the rest. Patience and kindness are sufficient homework. Why is so much more required of us? As if a manual on parenting, the verb makes its demands. It is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Seriously, has this verb ever had kids? Or a family member who borrowed money? Or a spouse?

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. What does this mean? Having recently watched a documentary about Amy Winehouse, in which the filmmaker suggests that the song we all know and like to hum along to:

“They tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no
Yes I’ve been black and when I come back, you’ll know, know, know
I ain’t got the time
And if my daddy thinks I’m fine
Just try to make me go to rehab I won’t go, go, go”

THAT song, it’s a true story. Her daddy did say she was fine. Turns out, daddy wasn’t so right. He didn’t rejoice with the truth. He delighted in evil. Watch any documentary, and you may come away thinking that her daddy could have done a lot more practical application of the verb, and one of the world’s greatest singers could still be alive.

Haley and Juan looking seriousThis last part of the verb’s demands are the meat of parenthood. We live in an era where parents constantly blog about how they can’t control or protect their children because of this brave new world we live on, where kids have cell phones and personal computers, and heaven forbid parents ever interfere in any of that? And again, I want to throw up in my mouth a little. Stop the insanity! I know your kids won’t love it, but take the damn phone away, lock up the computer, and be the adult. Sometimes, being a parent SUCKS. Sometimes, you hit a patch where it sucks for a long time.

We have to constantly check ourselves. Are we in it for us or them? Are we willing to fight the battles for their character that will grow them into kind, patient, conscientious adults? Because, if your kid is anything like mine, that can be a grueling, painful process. It is most definitely not a hallmark card. It’s a battlefield, and it’s exhausting. And all the warm fuzzy rhetoric about fatherhood and motherhood being wonderful journeys and gifts and miracles is not respectful to the parents who have to daily fight for their child’s character. Who have to insist for the gazzilionth time that the bed gets made, the pets get fed, the hair gets brushed, and the nasty look gets wiped off the pre-teen face. Or (in the case of 3 year olds) that the child actually does stop touching this thing, or climbing that bookcase, or biting that friend. Some kids are docile. If you lucked into one, again I say, lucky you. And I caution you not to give parenting advice to people struggling with oppositional hyperactive children.

In our little neck of the desert, my husband and I are the strictest parents I know, and by our last year having Stink in a “regular” school, I thought I might assault the next adult who suggested that her behaviors were born out of permissive parenting. If your child is not docile, to you I say, welcome to the club. You’re not alone. You, like us, cannot make excuses for them or allow them to bully their way through life, but if you, like us, care about their character, welcome to the club of the brave and broken hearted.

In our house, giving me grief is becoming an Olympic sport for our kid, but only me. She first scans the horizon to see if dad is around to witness the nastiness. Only yesterday, after a day centered around “kid fun” she was defiant and rude for three consecutive events. By the time we got home, I was ready to cry. But only after scolding her vehemently 3 consecutive times, leaving a purchase aside and leaving her alone in the car while I grocery shopped (counter to her wishes). Having a child be defiant and difficult on a daily (and on many days, an hourly) basis, is demoralizing. But it’s also reality for many parents. Having recently read a book by a mother parenting a child with ADHD, I’d hate to fall into the category of whining and excusing that seems an easy companion to the experience. I simply want to say, to those who are parenting less than charming children, don’t give up. It’s like babies. There’s lots of warm fuzzy rhetoric out there about those little creatures, but no one talks about the excruciating pain of breastfeeding when it goes wrong and the oxygen depriving stink of formula diapers, not to mention the years of sleep deprivation you will likely suffer. Babies and kids bring a lot of potential for disruption and chaos. (Happy Father’s Dad dads everywhere;)

And then there’s this last little part to remember.
LOVE always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. If it was easy as a lifetime movie, why would that last part be tacked on there? If there is some guarantee that our best efforts will result in the “X” that we’ve always dreamed of, shouldn’t patience and kindness be enough? In many a cases, they’re not. We need to hope, and persevere. Some children are born with disabilities that will never heal or improve. Some teenagers develop mental health problems that never could have been predicted in their happy, healthy childhoods. Some kids grow up to be jerks despite all the love and guidance they’ve received. It is possible that you can do everything you’re capable of to be a loving parent, and your or my kid will run away someday anyway. Maybe literally, maybe metaphorically.

My daughter’s favorite song to sing after we’ve had a challenging hour/day/week goes like this.

I’ve made up my mind.
And you’re not gonna change it this time.
I don’t care what you did yesterday.
And I know what you’ll do tomorrow.

When you run away.
I will bring you back.
Oh my love is the red against your black.

The dead will live again.
You will see those dry bones dancing.
In a death defying marvelous parade.
I’ll make you strong.
I’ll make you brave.

When you run away,
I will bring you back.
Oh my love for you is the red against your black.

When you run away.
I will bring you back.
Oh my love is the red against your black.

I ran a thousand miles for you.
Oh and you will break my heart.
And I will do it all again.
Because I couldn’t stand to be apart.

When you run away.
I will bring you back.
Oh my love for you is the red against your black.
When you run away.
I will bring you back.
Oh my love is the red against your black.
Yes my love is the red against your black.

~ JJ. Heller

I play it for her and she sings it to me. She is reassuring us both when she sings. She does break my heart, all the time. But I would do it again. I would run a thousand miles for her. So would her dad. Again.What she doesn’t understand is that we already have. Because it’s the last thing the verb commands.

Love never fails.

And so, on this not so holy of Father’s Days, I wish dads everywhere all the courage, strength, resilience and persistence required to really, truly love your kids. And a better sense of humor than I’ve got. You’re gonna need it!

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6 thoughts on “Not for the Faint of Heart

  1. Katie,
    I loved this. We are going through an incredible loss in our family right now, and I found so much comfort as I read your words. I actually experienced something similar when I read the blog you referenced. You did such a great job of describing the realities of family in all of its complexity.
    Blessings to you!
    Krys

  2. Thank you for your comment Krys. I am really sorry for your family-I’m glad to know I could contribute toward making you feel a little comfort. You’re not alone! Wishing you lots of hope and perseverance.

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