What's Your (Family) Flavor?
Four Saturday's ago, we loaded up our small posse for an end-of-summer day trip to the beach. Our destination was the shore spot I spent every summer of my childhood at, and even spent my 17th summer working there. All that summer lovin' that had me a blast feels several lifetimes ago. Especially when I consider that I actually used to SIT on the beach, sipping iced coffee drinks whilst perusing People magazines with the highest potential stressor being that I would nod off and give fellow sun-bathers a wide-open view of my tonsils, creating a small tributary into the ocean with my drool.
Fast forward two lifetimes into this recent day trip. We had arrived, trudging through the sand, heavy laden with two chairs, a Thirty-One bag the size of Tennessee (STUFFED with towels, swimmies and forgotten underwear from pool visits pasts), two coolers filled with liquids (sadly, no libations) and snacks for the undiscerning beach-goer. After the eternal process of restraining excited children whilst covering their sandy skin with organic sunscreen (I threw in the organic because it's true and because I have so little to impress with), I sank into my chair, hoping that they would all fall into their places on the sand, with the sand toys I had collected from the recess of our barn, digging moats and constructing castles of sand while the sun kissed their faces with freckles.
|The sole photo of the day, taken approximately two minutes after beach chair was put in the reclining position. In no time there, was no head in the hole and no red bucket in use.|
Rather, within five minutes of setting up my chair, I was at the ocean's edge, reminding them to stay close to the shore as they frolicked in the tide. Within seven minutes, the salt water was lapping my goose-pimpled thighs as I followed three of our five limit-pushers into deeper waters.
The surf was particularly playful that day, with many scantily-clad New Jerseyians bobbing and weaving within it's waves. Oceans and ponds are two things that bring out the usually subdued mother-paranoia in me. I am never, even in the calmest conditions, ever at ease in bodies of water of whose bottom I cannot readily see. This fear is made markedly higher with five children, all of whom brazenly run/jump/leap/drive head-first into most anything they are unleashed to. It explains why I am the mom who wastes no time jumping in with a frantic lecture the minute we head to any activity with possible risk, issuing all and any dire warnings along with threats for children who don't PAY ATTENTION and stay WITHIN THE BOUNDARIES. Truly, it is miraculous a nervous tick has not overtaken me.
So there I was, four weeks ago yesterday, the woman in her black, tummy-tucking Land's End swimsuit, waist-deep in the Atlantic, beckoned by children who kept taking another step towards Europe and whose ears could not detect her voice calling their name in the sea breeze and rough surf unless she yelled it as though a Drill Sargent with no inside voice and anger management issues. As I'm constantly calling out names, both arms are fully engaged in making an accompanying gesture akin to a hyperactive traffic controller. The picture I am creating should give you a flattering depiction of my ocean experience. (My husband is decidedly less urgent than I. He was standing at the waters edge, calmly keeping count of five heads. This was not an approach I was comfortable with, so I huffed out and did all the work of keeping the children the alive. But I'm not bitter....).
That beautiful sun-filled day at the beach never did offer me children that sat playing with sand contentedly for hours. It had more the feel of a watery rodeo, starring a cowgirl with an overworked lasso and a hoarse voice by it's conclusion.
Truthfully, this scenario can be transferred to many, if not most, outings. Yes, we discipline our children. Yes, we create and enforce appropriate boundaries at home. And YET, the spirit of our family is undeniably that of a bunch of young bulls bucking at the gates they waiting to be released from. Sometimes when we arrive somewhere it feels as though the children literally burst from the van doors, as if we never took them anywhere a day in their lives."WHY CAN'T THIS BE EASY (like it is for other mom's of well-behaved children)????" I would (and sometimes still do) ask myself. I have been completely disheartened by this wild spirit, wondering where we were going wrong that our offspring could not be trained to where we had children who naturally held back without reminders, and respectfully waited until given the "go ahead" by their parents. It was a point of in insecurity...until the conversation I had with a woman who is a mother to the kind of children I was trying to make mine into.
Erin is an absolutely beautiful person, inside and out. God is evident in her life, which is always sincere and never showy. She and her husband are both hard working and yet laid-back. They have been given numerous children, which she neither takes credit for or uses as a credential. I think we would both say, the more you have, the more you see how little you know. However, whenever I am around her and her children, I am absolutely struck by the general calmness that pervades. Note I did not say perfection or over-the-top harmony. They are human children with struggles and set-backs...and yet, when I compare their general essence as a family to ours in a similar setting, the difference is startling. I told her this and her insightful reply made me take pause. She spoke of herself as being a low-risk person, the one who walks very carefully into any setting, ready only to observe initially. If she feels as though its a situation in which she can maintain control, and if she desires to, she'll engage. But only then. She told me that it dawned on her one time (when she was with a family with similar children to ours), that she is raising her children with that same "hold back and observe" spirit that she has, and she worried that her tendencies were holding them back in certain situations.
As she was saying these things, I heard the voice of my grandmother, mother and aunt floating through my mind: "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree"...."If it's in the mum, it's in the pups"..."What goes around comes around". I considered my husband and mostly, myself, and it made sense that our children are genetically predispositioned for loud and bold living. And even if they did not share our genetics, they are being raised by a combination of humans that might allow for it more than others. Our parenting is flavored by our own personality and tendencies--all of them, not just the preferable aspects. Why do we expect our tribe to take after someone else?
Erin's words still linger through the days when I want to wave a wand and change my posse's aura into her's. It's possible that in the (exact, exclusive, rare) scenario, she might want to do the same with her own brood. We who parent are working with -and sometimes against- what we have, and with who we are. I know this sounds incredibly obvious, but perhaps I am just exceptionally slow:
The spirit of every family has it's own flavor. Wild or Observant...Easy Going or Going Strong...one is not inferior or superior. The ingredients that join into creating a family's flavor are necessary to it's function...and in reality, there is great purpose in the differentiation. God doesn't randomly place children in families...He sets them in them, on purpose, to fulfill a certain need in the world. It's a great gift to know that, and to rest in that He obviously thought I have what it takes, even with my faults and defaults.
Even though I still often raise my hands or roll my eyes in an exasperated "are you even kidding me?" and "WHY?" as I'm constantly corralling my crew at the park while other mother's fan themselves and talk amongst themselves as their children play quietly amongst themselves, or hushing them during times when silence is appropriate... at the core I know our family is what it is for a reason. Somehow, at some time, in ways I cannot now see, this full-throttle approach to life will work in our--and hopefully those who my children's lives touch--favor.
Whatever your family's flavor, I pray that we can find rest in, purpose from and even celebration by letting be what is.