On Wednesday nights, our church hosts His Kids, a program for the children in our town. I teach the first graders, where there is a lot of noise and crafting and occasional use of felt boards and where many of my prayers sound something like this: “Jesus, thank you for these kids. Please help them to focus tonight since they seem to have the attention span of gnats. Cute, spiritual gnats, but still. Amen.”
His Kids lasts from around 6 p.m. until 8, and it’s a good time for all. It’s when His Kids ends that things get a bit dicey. This is when my two boys hit The Wall and all spirituality leaks out of them. They have been doused with candy and Jesus for the past two hours, and now they have passed well beyond simply tired into the Danger Zone. Being tired only makes my boys nuttier because they don’t understand logic or sleep patterns. I prepare myself for the journey home and dreaded bedtime.
One night, we didn’t even make it to the car.
Both boys launched a full-scale attack on each other in the lobby of our church, and any semblance of obedience flew out the window, along with their ability to think rationally. Exhausted, I watched them squealing, running away from me, and laughing like sugar-bombed hyenas, and something in me just snapped.
That’s IT, I thought. I will teach them a lesson!
I’m not sure it ever goes well when a parent reaches the “let me teach you a lesson” level of had-it-up-to-hereness. And tonight would be no exception.
“Boys!” I began. “I’ve waited long enough. You’re not listening. You’ll need to walk home.” I said all this rather brightly, as if it were normal procedure for all of us. They continued running crazily around the church without even a backward glance.
And so I got my keys, walked calmly to the car, and left them.
We live three blocks from the church. My boys know the way home; we’ve walked the route together countless times. But in my head, something about it being nighttime, without Mom, was supposed to scare obedience into them. It was supposed to strike fear into their little hearts and show them what happens when they go nutball. It was supposed to be a Big Deal that they would never forget. Something that would forever remind them to be quiet, sweet, and wonderful children—at least in public.
And to the boys, it was a totally Big Deal. It was awesome.
And to me? Well, I nearly died from anxiety.
When my boys finally showed up on our front porch, I was a jittery mess. I had decided that after the next thirty seconds (which I was timing meticulously), I would head out and save them. And then I spied two short, shadowy figures doing what looked like a tuck-and-roll from behind the bushes. The shadows shouted at me triumphantly, “Mom. MOM! You let us walk home! In da dark! It was so cool! And we pretended we were ninja people! And—Mom? You okay?”
The lesson was mine, I guess.
I have two parenting speeds—too fast or too slow. I never cruise. I crash into things.
Too often, parenting veers off track. Parenting feels like I’m strapped into one of those wonky go-karts my boys beg us to ride, shooting around an endlessly repeating track. I have two parenting speeds—too fast or too slow. I never cruise. I crash into things. With the go-karts, I guess, there is a lot of laughter. And the same goes with parenting, most of the time.
That night, as I waited for my two ninjas to make it home, I imagined all sorts of awful things. They might have been run over. A dog could have chased them. One of them could have fallen down and hurt himself. Or worse, of course. Much worse. And this is not something I laugh at. Our world is full to the brim of Much Worse. I am well aware. I have a hard time just allowing my boys to play out in the front yard because of the Much Worse. My husband tells me, “It’s the front yard, not a war zone,” which doesn’t really work for me as an analogy because it’s not war I fear.
But it is war. I am at war with the one who constructs fear and fearsome things, and I hate him. Parenting keeps that battle fresh for me every day. I know there is a balance between imagining the bogeyman around every corner and not fearing anything at all for my boys. Somewhere, somehow, there has to be a smart, well-traveled middle road that I can meander without mishap, but so far, I feel like my parenting is just a bunch of stalls and spinouts. Satan loves this, of course, because it is all a distraction from what I should be doing, which is focusing on Jesus.
This whole kid thing? Our love for them can tackle us sometimes. It can take us out at the knees. That is when the enemy enters in. He loves to take what is good, like love for a child, and twist it into something evil, like fearing that child’s whole world.
Parenting and fear cozy up to each other. We bring these darling little babies into the world, and we feel huge love. And love is good. We know this. But this whole kid thing? Our love for them can tackle us sometimes. It can take us out at the knees. That is when the enemy enters in. He loves to take what is good, like love for a child, and twist it into something evil, like fearing that child’s whole world.
I know all of this. I believe and follow Christ, and I know that as a result I can come under attack. But I lose my cool when I feel that attack aimed at the cute little blonde or redhead by my side. That’s not a fair fight, I think. I have to worry now. I have to take control. It’s not at me anymore. It’s my child.
For the first three or four years of my children’s lives I worried and worried and worried. My addiction to alcohol hit its highest mark. Sometimes I wonder, was it the wine that created more worry, or the other way around? But trying to untangle the whole chicken-or-egg theory behind my drinking does no good. I am an alcoholic, after all. We defy normal theorizing.
Now I am sober. I still worry today, but less so. I still sink under occasional, heart-palpitating fears about my children. These come to me mostly at night, or mostly when I am tired, or mostly when I’m hungry. Satan works better with darkness and deprivation. I pray over both sleeping boys at night with a fervency that smacks of anxiety. God forgives me of that.
Since that lesson-learning night of my ninja children running amok in our neighborhood, I have established much clearer rules about our exit strategy from His Kids. We have some firm consequences in place, and ever since, we have been able to get home, bathed, and in bed without too many shenanigans.
I have also explained to them that Mama will never again just up and leave them if they misbehave. They looked disappointed at this, as if they view the world and all its challenges as things that can be conquered with a cool ninja tuck-and-roll. Bless their hearts.