When I was in the throws of adolescence, my mother gave me a “blessing”.You may have been given this blessing at some point too. It went like this: “I hope one day you have a daughter just like you.” Being full of wit (she called it “sass”, but whatever), I would respond like this: “Thank you. I hope so too.”
And God listened. Oh boy, did He.
She wanted to paint her nails blue. That is how it all started – the epic drama that was our morning.
Problem was, we were out of nail polish remover. I had told her this fact before she started. “It’s OK”, she responded. dismissing my concern. “I don’t need any remover.” And she did not. Until she accidentally got the dark blue polish on her hands.
I was first alerted to the problem when I passed by the sink and saw her standing there holding out what looked like the hands of a mortally wounded Smurf. Her face reflected her panic and concern.
“MOM! I can’t get it to come off!” Poor thing was trying to wash off the paint. . . with water. The water was, of course, only spreading the paint around and then hardening it up on her hands.
The clock read 7:40 a.m. School drop-off is promptly at 8:05. There was still time to run to the corner CVS for some remover. I was willing to do it and we were all ready to go.
I don’t remember how it happened, but at some point during the five minutes that followed, it became all my fault. And I was not having it.
“Get your back pack and go to the car”, I instructed.
“I am NOT going to school like THIS!” she retorted while thrusting her blue disaster in my face.
“You certainly are going to school. Get your back pack and go to the car.” I was clear and calm. No, I really was.
“FINE. I will go the car. But I am NOT taking my back pack!”
This is one of the curiosities of the universe. How does this have any bearing on the current situation? Why do children believe that sassing their mother disrespectfully is going to help anything get better? And why would they want to dig their heels in on something that is actually going to cause THEM problems?
Sure enough. She stomped out into the garage, leaving her back pack in the living room floor.
I know she expected me to bring it out to her. But I did not. As I got into the car, I glanced back at her in backseat. She had worked herself up into a real lather – a dark blue one – and was ready to fight. I put the car in reverse and backed out of the garage into the driveway. I thought I might call her bluff that way and surely she would snap out of it and want to go back in for her stuff.
“Are you sure you don’t want to get your back pack?”
“NO! I am going to use my free homework pass and buy my own lunch.”
“You won’t have your water bottle or your snack. How do you have lunch money?”
“Well, I don’t. I will have to borrow money from the cafeteria, which means I will get a peanut butter sandwich like they give poor kids.”
“Is that what you want to do?”
A moment of silence.
“Julia, I am going to ask you one more time. Are you sure you don’t want to go in and get your back pack?”
“I need to go in, but I am just going to get my homework.”
She disappeared into the house for a couple of minutes. When she came out, with her back pack, I tried to look away and not smile.
“I am taking my back pack, but NOT because you told me to.”
“Why are you making me the enemy?” I asked.
She started to cry. “Because then YOU will win. And I will LOSE. . . again.”
Oh brother. I remember that feeling SO well. It was almost like I had climbed into a time machine. And on that back seat was sullen, pouty Melanie Fudge, trying hard not to give in to reason. Trying to stay mad. Longing to hug my mama, but aching all the same to fight. I felt a wave of empathy wash over me. Bless her heart. Growing up is so hard. And here she was – between a rock and a hard place. All she had to do was apologize, ask me for help, show appropriate respect. And she would almost rather eat the free lunch, not have homework to turn in and go to school with hands covered in Smurf explosion than to raise the white flag.
Such a tough age. I remember it well. I didn’t make her suffer. But I did make her choose.
“Julia, I love you. And I will do anything in my power to help you. But you will not treat me this way. I told you this morning that I did not have polish remover. You made the choice to continue with the nail polish. And now, I am offering to take you to get some nail polish remover. However, hear my words, I will not be punished for your bad choices. You owe me an apology. And then, if you would like my help, you need to ask appropriately for it.”
Her face reflected the struggle. She looked like she was trying to lay an egg or like she smelled a rotten one. And then, her countenance changed completely. To one of peace.
“Mom, I am sorry. Will you please help me?”
Before the words were out of her mouth, immediately I stretched out my hand to take hers. “Absolutely!” I said with a smile. God truly gave me the strength in that moment to respond to her in that way.
We drove to CVS. I waited for her to stand outside and clean her hands with the polish remover. The Smurf remnants disappeared as quickly as the bad mood did.
The drive to school was a perfect opportunity to recap and put the whole situation in a spiritual light.
“Julia, this is an example of grace. Because I love you, I forgive you when you are sorry. No matter what you do. I will always forgive you when you are sorry. That is the way God treats us because of Jesus. Even when we don’t deserve it. He says, ‘Come on back home, you stinky prodigal. I love you.’”
She smiled at that last line. Because she knew I had just called her a stinky prodigal. And because we both knew that we were both, at times, playing that role.
It’s funny how these moments in parenting feel like hours, yet the whole experience took place in less than twenty-five minutes.
But these are the moments that shape our children. These moments shape their relationship with us. They shape their relationship with God. They shape the relationships they will have one day with their own children.
And they certainly make us appreciate our own mothers too!