Picture-Perfect Life

Last week, Lola & I had a rub. It was the kind all mothers and daughters experience, melodramatic and frightful at once, and we just could not work it out. What started on Monday, by Friday had created a riff that threatened to damage our whole weekend ahead. I think all ages of childhood present unique and unexpected challenges for mothers, but Seven Years Old has proved thus far to be the year that might break me, the age that defies all my expectations of motherhood and presents situations I never dreamed I’d deal with – this rub was almost tangible proof of the teenage years that are indeed ahead. I was tired; Lola wouldn’t quit; together we were an emotional mess.

After repeating myself countless times on Friday night and nearly leaving Lola at church movie night on purpose, I poured my exhausted heart out to Christian, who, in all his husbandly-wisdom suggested we have a Talk (capital T for importance – you know, those kind of Talks). We’d tackle it together Saturday, but I wrote it on the family white board Friday night before bed so everyone would know what to expect. No sooner had the dry erase marker squeaked out the last letters, Lola was by my side, carefully rolling each word over her tongue. “F-A-M-I-L-Y T-A-L-K, what’s that all about?” she asked cautiously. I quickly explained to her how tired I am of the way things have been going, how surely she knew that, and we need to talk about our expectations for one another – so get ready to make some changes.

“Oh.” Lola gulped. “I’ll go get ready for bed.”

Before I had kids of my own I never thought I’d assert my authority over them the way my parents did to me. I swore I’d be the cool mom everyone obeyed because, duh, I’m awesome and that must be enough to command respect. This could not be further from true; “cool” and “parenting” are rarely found in the same sentence, a fact that rears its ugly head every time I try the cool mom approach versus more traditional parenting methods (turns out you can’t just bake cookies and watch movies together and foster safe environments to just talk it out every time someone acts out of line! Who knew?). But as my own mother used to chant at parent-teacher conferences and recite to us kids every chance she could find, “Children will rise or fall according to the expectations placed upon them.” The effect goes both ways. Respect is built in the hard moments that teach us about life; the moments we rise to the occasion or fall short, each teaching us an invaluable lesson about life. I might hate asserting my authority as a parent but whenever I do I’m amazed at how responsive Lola becomes, and how concerned she gets with not letting me down. I raise the bar, and she meets my level beautifully in ways I couldn’t fathom.

I could hear her quiet sobs coming from the bathroom that Friday night, the week of the Great Rub, the night before the Family Talk. I waited for her in the hall, and though she couldn’t see me I watched her brush her teeth, tears streaming down her cheeks. She was staring at a framed photo of us together we took over four years ago, her favorite photo the two of us, taken down with care from the walls of her room and brought on display in the bathroom for her to meditate on. She stared at the picture while rinsing with fluoride and combing her hair, tracing our outlines and crying. I could not help but intervene. “Lola, why are you crying and looking at a picture of us together? Does it make you feel sad?” I asked, but she just looked at the photo and cried.

We got into bed, she cried some more and without my prompting apologized for how she’s been treating me lately (a smart move, anticipating the topic of our impending family discussion). I forgave her and assured her I’m not against her and am in fact 100% for her in all aspects of life. It wasn’t enough. She cried and held the photo of us in her hands. “I just want life to be happy and perfect like in this picture!”

And that’s when I realized, though flawed and longing, we’re all walking around holding a picture of a perfect life, how we feel it should be. And despite our best intentions, efforts and achievements, we can’t make our lives look like that picture we carry around without some outside help. We simply aren’t strong enough, good enough, or even capable of creating a picture-perfect life, not without help from the One who makes all things perfect in his most beautiful way.

I hugged my baby girl tight, and together we asked God in whom all things are possible for help to treat all the people in our lives with respect, dignity and love; all the things so graciously appointed to us by Christ who makes all things perfect and teaches us how to love. We put down the picture of ourselves from four years ago, and accepted ourselves in the messy muck where we’re at today.

I might hate asserting my authority as a parent, and it might hurt to grow in areas we’d rather envision as “perfect”. But effort meets effort; it’s as if being a Parent, with a capital P in all the parent-y ways, is the only true way to bring out the best in our children. And through His help we are able to rise to the challenge daily, getting one step closer each time to restoring that picture we’re carrying around of a perfect life.

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