Lonna is fourteen. She’s past the “my hormones are so crazy they’re taking on a life of their own” phase. She’s moved onto the “these adults just really don’t know what they’re doing, so I’ll help them out with my all my experience” phase.
This morning, I picked her up from swim team practice with five year old Hilary in the car. Can you believe that Lonna swims at 7:30 every morning…in the summer? The mere thought exhausts me. I do like how it gets us up and motivated in the mornings, though. I know that far too often, a lazy morning would turn into a lazy afternoon in a blink of an eye if we didn’t have swim practice to keep us on track.
As Lonna recounted the events of today’s practice to me, Hilary saw something interesting out the window. “Did you see that, Mommy? Did you see that out the window?” I replied that unfortunately, I had not seen it, and we were at that point already quite a way past the unknown fascinating object and surrounded by morning traffic, which needed my full attention. “Well, turn around so I can show you!” What was it about that event that became so important to Hilary? I wish I knew! She is very much in the “I have so many thoughts and emotions at any given moment that I think I might just explode” phase. Hmmm. Very similar to the teen phase, isn’t it?
Lonna was angry that Hilary interrupted her. Hilary was angry that I refused to turn the car around. The result was a teenage glare of disdain from Lonna and a torrent of tears from Hilary. I corrected Hilary, but it was obviously one of those issues that just wasn’t going to be settled in the car. We’d have to finish the discussion at home. Lonna insisted that I should “make” Hilary be quiet. Otherwise, I would just be teaching Hilary that she can get away with things. According to Lonna, she can make Hilary do anything she wants her to do. She can always make her stop crying.
Suddenly, I was faced with not one, but two parenting challenges. On the one hand, I had the defiant five year old whining and whimpering in the back seat. On the other hand, I had the disrespectful teen who loves to give out parenting advice like an episode of an afternoon talk show.
I took a breath, a sip of coffee, and prayed. Surrounded by indignation from both of my girls, the only response I could give was…grace. I said to Lonna, “I know you’re trying to help, but our motivations are different. You’re looking at the situation as a sister…a sister who just wants her sibling to shut up! You’ll react to the situation in whatever way will bring you the quickest result of peace and quiet. I’m not Hilary’s sister. I’m her parent. My job is not just to deal with this one tantrum. It’s to teach her how to live with disappointment. It’s to teach her about the rest of her life.”
I don’t know if Lonna truly understood me, but she didn’t say anything else about it. Hilary ended up forgetting the whole thing, and we arrived home to the rest of our day. What I didn’t say to Lonna was that in that moment, I hoped I was teaching her something as well. Not just that she doesn’t have the right to correct my parenting, but that she, too, has a lesson to learn. It’s easy just to put out fires with the passions and temptations of our lives. We deal with this little thing or ignore that little thing or cover up all those things, in hopes that it will all go away itself. But it doesn’t. It’s just covered up. No matter how pretty the covering, it’s still all dark and nasty under there.
I’ve been doing an awful lot of this in my own life. Just addressing the things on the periphery and ignoring the big, giant root of the problem in the middle. I’ve been throwing my own little tantrums and turning a blind eye to the big picture.
I don’t know if I taught Lonna anything about grace today, but I know she sure woke me up to things I need to address (Shh! Don’t tell her!). A hint of sin here and a touch of temptation there is not just something to hush up and make quiet already. For it’s not about today. It’s about the rest of my life.