On the long drive to Tennessee this week I was solo parenting. Dave had a meeting in New York and I volunteered to drive with the four kids all the way down from Chicago to Nashville while he flew in after his meeting. I thought it would be a cake walk. I like driving long distances. It relaxes me. I figured, the kids are past diapers and spit ups and stopping every five minutes, they all have electronics now to keep their brains occupied and when they don’t they can be really interesting conversation partners. So, I loaded up an audio book on my iPhone to listen to while they watched movies or listened to their iPods or played on their handheld gaming systems. I really thought I had it all together.
I held it together as long as I could in the face of their constant bickering, complaining and overall discomfort with all things car related. I listened and I mediated and I issued warnings and I made mandates and I might have even waved my hand toward the back seat saying, “don’t make me turn this car around!” a few times, which was a non starter because they said they’d rather be at home anyway.
After the last vestiges of my patience were gone, retreating to points unknown, never to be seen again on that car trip I began to mutter, because sometimes I mutter when I’m mad. I said bad things under my breath, I sighed heavily and a few times I got off the expressway and got out of the car taking deep breaths. “I do not like these people right now” I admitted out loud for my own benefit.
Eventually, after Miles puked in the backseat around Paducah KY, things settled a bit. We limped into Nashville as though we’d just been through the battle of the bulge, a little worse for the wear but still intact, still a family, still fighting the battle together, mostly on the same side.
I related all this to my nice friend, Carol yesterday as we lamented the slings and arrows of parenting. The thing we come to over and over again in these conversations is the deep realization that things get hairy and we get scared and tired, we say things we don’t mean to say out loud, we get out of the car and pace and mutter and in the end what we need most is to know that we’re all going to be alright. It helps, to have friends who have been to dark places and lived to tell about it. It helps us to limp along until we cross back into daylight.
Today my nice friend Carol sent me an email, a forward of something I sent to her years ago probably after a conversation much like the one we had yesterday.
When children try your soul, as they will,
When they cause you grief, as they do,
When they rouse your anger and provoke your
wrath, as is their way,
When they reduce you to tears and prayer
as often happens,
Don’t bother about anything at all
Until you have first made clear to yourself
That your love for the child in question
Is holding firmly, swelling warmly in your heart.
Then, whatever you do will be as nearly right
As it is possible for human judgement to be right.
-Angelo Patri 19th century educator, New York City
I thank God for people who walk the road with me and for words like this that keep coming back time and time again when I least expect them.