I yelled at my son this morning. He is 3 years old and his current obsession is superheroes. He likes to run around the house in a variety of superhero costumes (of course, they are not costumes to him, they are his true identity) and shoot Spiderman webs out of his wrists at random objects. As he does this so passionately, spit simultaneously spews out of his mouth, giving everyone a nice rinse who happens to be within 10 feet of him.
He also likes to wear these outfits out. Many a Costco and Target patrons have been almost accosted by this superhero at heart. I was rushing out the door this morning trying to get to Costco before it got crazy (which is funny because it’s always crazy). I had my 2 year-old in the car and I was impatiently telling Hudson to go to the bathroom before we leave. He decides that this is a good time to put on one of his more complicated “Samurai” costumes, which involves not only a whole outfit, but also a mask and long white gloves. Have you ever tried to put gloves on a 3 year-old? It’s kind of like trying to pick up warm Jell-O. Not fun.
I was annoyed before I even started. Part of me wants to be this really cool mom who finds it adorable that her little guy wants to wear full-blown Halloween costumes to the store. Another part of me wants to be this really firm mom who says, “There is a time and a place for these kinds of things,” meaning that Costco is not the place for Halloween festivities or make-believe. I decided to be cool and let him be a Samurai.
The car was running, my coffee was getting cold, and every minute that passed meant 10 more minutes I would be in line at the store. I struggled to put these weirdly long white gloves on his little squirmy hands. I grew more agitated with every passing second, weirdly and disproportionately agitated. I finally ripped the gloves off his hands, threw them rather forcefully on the ground, and in a very mature way yelled, “I hate these stupid gloves!”
That was it. The happy little superhero that stood before me transformed into a fear-stricken little boy. The tears fell and he said only this as he fought through the cries…”I’m so sorry Mommy. I didn’t mean to.” I stayed there, on my knees, looking at his little 3 foot 4 inch frame, crocodile tears falling from his big brown eyes, mask secured on top of his head, and I felt one overwhelming emotion. Guilt.
He thought it was his fault. He saw Mom lose it, and he turned it on himself. He “didn’t mean it,” he said. I don’t even think he knew what he was saying, but I do know that he thought he was somehow the cause of my anger. It took about one nanosecond for me to throw my arms around him and profusely apologize for hurting him, for not being able to control my emotions, and for taking out my frustration on him. He sobbed in his my arms and said, “You’re really really sorry Mom for making a bad choice?”
We quickly moved past my little emotional meltdown and all was well. But this unsettling feeling lingered in me throughout the day. I remembered being a kid and having that feeling like somehow, some way, you are the reason your parents are sad, or angry, or distant. I never wanted to do that to my kids. But I did. I thought maybe this was the lesson God wanted to teach me, not to allow my emotions to hurt my kids. But that was just the beginning.
For one rare moment, I saw myself as a child not as I usually do, but as I saw Hudson in that moment. It was as if God knows that I can’t see myself accurately, nor can I see how he sees me accurately, so he turned my gaze elsewhere, where I could see. When I saw Hudson, all I felt was sadness for him. I saw a weakness, a deep fragility, and a dependence that is unspeakably profound. I saw a child who doesn’t understand his impact or lack of, who assumes that he has more power than he does in all the wrong ways, a kid dressed up in a costume trying to be strong who in reality, is just a tiny helpless human being. I saw me, all those years ago, barely old enough to perceive anything except the tension around me, and the role I thought I played in it. I saw me, tears pushed back for fear that my tears would add to my parent’s seemingly endless pain. I saw all the tears that never fell, and for the first time in my life, I felt an unbiased sadness for that little girl with the thousands of tears unshed.
This is not where I saw God taking this failed parenting moment on my end. He didn’t take it to a place of rebuking me for being a mom who needed a lesson in self-control, even though I did. He took it to a place of tender compassion for a woman who was still punishing her younger self for not being good enough, or wise enough, or strong enough, to push back her parent’s tears.
He took it to a place where he was my father, I was the child, and he whispered into my confused heart, “I saw all the tears that were never shed, and I caught every single one in my hand.”
Maybe we are closest to God when we end up somewhere we least expected, somewhere we couldn’t have taken ourselves because we didn’t even know it existed. Maybe we are living in our truest identities of being God’s sons and daughters when we sink so far into our vulnerability that we fear there won’t be a way out. Maybe we are most cared for when we are most afraid. Maybe we are most healed when we resist the image of a punitive, disappointed, fragile parent, and instead run to the image of a loving father on his knees, lunging toward us with his embrace, catching our tears and telling us how sorry he is for the pain we must face in this confusing and fragile life.
Being a mom has taught me one thing. When you really love your child, nothing, absolutely nothing, will stop you from getting on your knees, wrapping your arms around them, and trying to rescue them from the lies and the self-hatred and the distorted reality they encounter. I am but a grain of sand of love compared to the endless shores of God’s love. If I would stop at nothing, what would our heavenly Father do for us?