Today was a “Call of the wild” day; the day where the needs of life bring out the primal instinct. My transformation from respectable, doting mother to glowing-eyed, raging animal began at 11:42am. It is not as glamorous as movie special effects deceptively portray.
It was in that moment that my child, jarred from a desperately needed nap, screamed out in panic. This is about the 13th time in 2 weeks that naptime has been shattered. Allegedly a group of Marines are here firing artillery- at all hours of the day and night. I used to think the sounds from the ranges were the ‘sweet sounds of freedom’. I recant that statement. The screams of a child who has no hope of sleep is the exact opposite of freedom. I’m not saying I am anti-Marine this month…but sleepless, cranky kids are my major malfunction.
With auburn hair wildly poking out of my “ F4 Tornado ponytail” and eyes now bloodshot and wide, I gathered up my Firstborn and made him a lunch with the only remaining piece of bread. As I rifled through the pantry and fridge, I realized my choices were procrastinate and die or hunt for food. I brought my cubs to the car and braved the wild. (Please, start humming Hungry Like the Wolf.) Lest you think I lost all humanity, be advised I was still wearing actual pants and shoes to Wal-Mart. Let’s be honest- shopping at Wal-Mart is a spectator sport.
This was an essentials only trip- I avoided most of the aisles and totally avoided the leftover St. Patrick’s Day and brightly colored Easter items. As far as I am concerned, the “Seasonal Items” sign should read, “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter”. I hunted and gathered, then herded my cubs to the exit. As I passed the prominent display of the baby girl clothes (look away!) I noticed a pink onesie that said, “Saw it. Wanted it. Threw a tantrum. Got it. “ As my son says, “ Woah…wow.” Disgusted, I thanked Cub 1 for his good choices and wonderfully cooperative behavior in public.
I proceeded to pick the slowest 20 items or less lane. I watched 4 people check out in the next line over for every one person in front of me, but it was too late to jump ship. By the time I was next in line I was singing the “Be Patient” song, hugging Firstborn and rocking Secondborn’s carrier to calm his fussing. Several onlookers in other lines decided to watch The Motherhood Show. Next time I will put up a sign on the cart that reads, “Please Feed the Animals.”
What seemed like 10 years later, I was unloading kids and groceries into the car when I spotted it. Under the cart was the gallon of milk. It was sitting there…unpaid for. In that moment, I was ready to cry over stolen milk. I was a milk thief.
I was a few seatbelt clicks away from going home. There it was- the fleshly call of the wild again. (And another boom from artillery.) Every temptation flooded me to ‘just pay next time’, and all manner of ‘Wal-Mart is evil’, ‘milk is overpriced’ and similar self-deceiving foolishness. Back when I was unhindered by children, schedules, and ruined naps, this would have been a non-issue moment. Now, a fight-or-flight battle raged in my flesh. It may sound stupid, but hauling 60 extra pounds into the store again to wait in long lines with impatient children just hurt. NO one was watching… but that is when integrity counts. I looked over at Firstborn who was waiting to be buckled in and told him, “Come here. We have to go back in. We do what’s right, even when it is hard, because God sees.” My flesh was throwing a tantrum, hoping to get what it wanted- to just go home. Like any child who throws a tantrum to get her own way, it needed a good “Come to Jesus” meeting. God was watching. Neither of us like disobedient children.
I hauled both children and the milk back into the store and waited in the line for another 15 minutes and 3 rounds of “Be Patient.” I finally got to the front of the line and paid more for a gallon of milk than I paid for a gallon of gas.
Although he won’t remember it, my son watched me when integrity mattered. In that moment I wasn’t thinking about character building techniques, ‘teachable moments’, or remembering to say, “This is milk. It comes from a cow. Cows say, ‘Moo!’ Can you moo? What color is the milk?” and all those good things moms say to their kids while shopping. I might have gotten the milk for free, but once I got home my guilt-ridden self would be having a cow. (90s culture check!)
In that moment I didn’t want to change who I strive to be simply because having kids in tow makes things harder. It is harder to be patient. Harder to shower. Harder to keep a clean home. Just HARDER. Sometimes it is even harder to do what is right. Doing things the right way has a cost. Despite what the horrid onesie hanging in Wal-Mart claims, it takes more than a tantrum to get what you want. A good mom says, “No, you may not!”, even to herself when the easy way out is tempting.
Only last week I noticed a bright yellow object in Firstborn’s hand as I left the grocery store. On our way through the ‘gauntlet of doom’ for every mother forced to shop with kids, he had laid a finger on a Butterfinger. I have no clue how he reached the bottom shelf while seated in the cart, but he did. Rather than buy it separately and steal a bite as a mom tax, I put the Butterfinger back. The fit he pitched was worthy of the World Series. I said, “We don’t take things without paying for them.” Had I gotten out to the car, I would have gone back in and paid for it, frustrated with my son for stealing. How interesting that when I accidentally swiped some milk, I had faced an integrity check. Sometimes it is harder to parent ourselves than our children.
It is hard to measure what a kid knows by his actions. If it were an accurate method, no mother would have to say, “You know better.” It is frustrating when Firstborn’s strong will displays itself in a refusal to display what he knows. He won’t point to his eyes, sign thank you, or saying, “Excuse me” instead of giggling after farting with the perfect pitch accuracy of an AK- 47. I know he can do these things- he has before. Unfortunately, most the time he looks at me like I am speaking a different language…which I probably should be doing to enhance his cognitive abilities. (Eye roll) Sometimes I wonder if he is learning ANYTHING from me…until I really look at how far he has come. Perhaps I should give myself the same grace.
Please, dear reader, don’t take this as boasting a good choice or excellent mothering. Instead, give yourself grace. There is more value in taking another 30 minutes out of the day to demonstrate integrity that pleases God than 30 minutes reading about shapes to a boy who is doing flips off the ottoman. Most kids learn colors and shapes. Not all kids learn not to swipe Butterfingers and milk. All kids will throw tantrums. Some kids will hear, “I love you too much to let you be a disobedient child without self-control.” Others will get a “Got it!” onesie. With any luck, my sons will grow into men that won’t make me cry over stolen milk. Until then, we will all just cry over naptimes stolen by the Marines.