As I write this, basking in the bright sunshine of a crisp fall day, I hear the happy sounds of children at play wafting through the air, for I have opened the windows and turned off the HVAC in an attempt both to freshen our air supply and trim our electric bill. (Who cares if the temperature indoors is a little cool? It’s fresh and it’s free!)
Our morning chores are all done, the kitchen is clean, and we had a successful and productive time of singing and reading before I dismissed the children outside to enjoy the nice weather. The happy playing is mostly due to the cumulative desperation to get outdoors, and the satisfaction of finally achieving that goal—it’s the first nice day in a slew of cloudy, rainy, chilly days that left the house muddy, the schoolwork grudgingly and half-heartedly attended to, and the children grumpy (to say nothing of the mother).
Some days, things just seem to fall into place, and today is apparently one of those days. Good planning can contribute to smooth household running, and a great attitude on the part of those in leadership can definitely set a good tone; but sometimes the day is just difficult, and no amount of getting up early, cheerful patience, and having plenty of wonderful snacks on hand can counteract the inertia of crotchety gloom.
In the spirit of adjusting expectations and having plans go awry, I find myself frequently referencing a classic poem by A. A. Milne called Twice Times. The poem starts off with two little bears, one bad and one good, and goes through various iterations of how good Good Bear was (“Good Bear learnt his twice-times-three”) and how naughty Bad Bear was (“Bad Bear never had his hand-ker-chee”). The highly quotable twist comes midway through the poem:
And then quite suddenly (just like Us)
One got Better and the other got Wuss.
Suddenly Good Bear muddles his twice-times-one, while Bad Bear stops leaving his buttons undone. It’s a cute and whimsical poem, and it so aptly illustrates what I have experienced time and time again with my children: I can’t put my children in a box and label them “Difficult Child,” “Helpful Child,” “Challenging Child,” and so on. Or rather, if I did, I’d be constantly swapping out labels, because children mature and grow and change at such a breath-taking pace.
As often as I’ve seen this happen—and I’ve even mused before about things getting easier with time—I’m still susceptible to discouragement when a particularly trying phase seems to drag on for too long. Right now, we’re in the trenches with one child, whose stubbornness determination and strong nature will some day do credit to a mature character. While I implement patience, loving discipline, and constant reminders of expected behavior, I keep waiting for things to turn around, and some days I do see glimpses of progress; but overall, it’s a constant challenge to stay on top of the willfulness and mischief.
It’s not all a veil of tears, but constantly dealing with the same issues over and over again—over such a prolonged period of time—gets wearying. Some days, I am simply fed up with the constant watchfulness, nonstop correction, and frequent emptying of pockets (to counteract the repeated kleptomania) required of me just to manage the one little trouble-maker. (Oops. No labels! Bless you, my child, what marvelous room for improvement you represent.)
I don’t want to sound peevish or fretful, because circumstances could be so much worse. But I think it’s important to acknowledge that just “normal,” everyday parenting can be really hard. There aren’t quick fixes to long-term endeavors, and I don’t have all the answers, even to our own struggles.
Of course, I tend to be optimistic, and I always believe in putting one’s best foot forward, so I’m not likely to complain (much). This I say on a good day. On the bright days—both weather-wise and attitude-wise—I feel happy and grateful, because things are going well. On the rough days, I try to be happy and thankful anyway, because I know that things will get better. But our family is still very much a work in progress, and sometimes I just wonder, “Are we there yet?” Not yet.
Photo Credit: All images by Rose Focht, edited by Charity Klicka.