Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Cup of Tea

   Yesterday I taught my oldest how to make a cup of tea. She's almost ten. She's very much in the thick of 'tween-ness.' This terrifies me. Full on insta-anxiety tightening my throat. I can't screw this up. She is my first child. So impressionable. Full of grace. The kind of child I can count on one hand the number of times a year she needs discipline beyond a firm word of reprimand. Being her mother has been a blessing from the moment she was born. A lesson in gentleness, because even a harsh word breaks her heart. And I don't want to break her. I want to strengthen her. Empower her. Teach her. Help her grow in goodness, love, patience, compassion, knowledge, character, wisdom, and strength. Help her figure out who she is as a person, discover her passions and talents, and encourage her in them. I cannot screw this up.
   Several months ago we realized she would go through days at a time where she was, in her own way, raging. Mean to her siblings, impatient and snippy with my husband and me, and would just burst out roaring at anyone over the slightest trigger. We had long talks about a lot of things, and determined she was okay, she hadn't been hurt by some one, she was just dealing with natural physiological development. No one tells you mood swings start before puberty sets in, but when I asked about it on a private parenting forum, all the moms were, 'Oooooh yes, it's AWFUL!' So here's your warning: It's a thing. It happens, and way before you'd expect it. Tweens turn into angry toddlers for a few days at a time. Brace yourself. Fill yourself with patience and grace. It's coming. I was at a loss as to how to help her, so I just reminded her to take a deep breath and find a new way to say or do that. It was really a reminder to both of us as I dealt with this new creature my child was becoming. She continued to have her raging days, so one day we sat down together one afternoon while everyone else was napping,  and looked up a handful of Bible verses on how to handle our anger and frustration. We copied them down with colorful markers until we'd fill an entire page, and talked about what they literally meant, what these things would actually look like in our common frustrating situations while we decorated the page. She hung hers by her bed when we were done. When she has her bad days now, sometimes she'll go to her room, read the verses, and talk about how those things would literally look in the situations making her angry that day.
   In addition to having such a sensitive heart toward reprimand, my girl also has a sensitive heart toward outside influences. One day, she and her siblings watched Spiderwick Chronicles on Amazon. They all seemed to love it, but that night she couldn't sleep. An hour after everyone was asleep and I was heading to bed myself, she came downstairs in tears. Every time she closed her eyes she saw scary things from the movie, and she was now scared to close her eyes. I was annoyed. It wasn't a scary movie in the first place, and I was exhausted. I wanted to sleep so badly. but thankfully a voice in my head boomed that this was a crossroad. I could tell my daughter she was fine, remind her how she knew it was just a movie and none of that was possible in real life, and she needed to go back to bed. That's what I wanted to do so badly. It's what I'd done in many instances before. But that voice wouldn't stop, so I made a change. I snuggled her into the couch with me, we got out our Bibles, and we talked about fear. Irrational or not, she was afraid, and she was coming to me with it. I could shut her out and poo-poo her feelings, reminding her of logic and require that she accept it, or I could meet her where she was and connect. I chose the latter. For more than an hour, we sat and talked, looked at what God said about these things, discussed how that would literally look in our lives, and ended up turning on our favorite music and singing along. Right there, in the living room, at midnight, my almost-10-year-old and I were worshiping together.
   For the next few weeks, at least once a week she would have trouble sleeping because something was heavy on her heart, and she'd come down just as I was about to turn in, and it would mean at least an hour of connecting with her. It was exhausting. But I knew it was worth it. It was what needed to be done. If I commanded obedience, requiring that she put feelings aside, think logically(like an adult), and assimilate in accordance with our family rules of lights out and did not validate her feelings, see her as the amazing individual she was, and respect her enough to make time for her I would be failing mightily. It was tempting. So tempting. I was tired. Every one of those nights I was exhausted, fought impatience, and ignored my own brain screaming about all I needed to do the next day, the sleep I was missing, and counting down the minutes until I knew the baby would be awake to eat again. But my daughter needed me, and she is worthy of me and my time.
   Last night my husband and I talked about how terrifying the thought of parenting a teen is. We've been doing infancy through childhood for the last decade, and for the decade before that I was babysitting, nannying, and teaching. We know how to work our way through that part. But this turning-toward-teen stuff. It's like toddlerhood all over again, but the problems are a lot stickier. A lot more involved. A lot more grown up. It all feels so imperative that we get it right.  Yesterday our girl looked whooped. Dark circles around her eyes, low energy, and a bit snippy in personality. She even fell asleep at rest time, which is usually just an hour of reading time she enjoys while the younger kids nap. When she woke up she looked wrecked. I gently probed a bit to see if she was feeling symptoms of illness, or if she had some hurt feelings or something else she was dealing with, but came up empty. Something in me saw her through different eyes. I saw myself. Whooped. Nothing to give, and a short fuse. What do I, an adult want, when I'm feeling that way(aside from a 12-hour nap)? Coffee. A nice, hot cup of coffee. Well, I'm not giving her coffee, but I could do tea. So I coaxed her into the kitchen and told her I was going to teach her how to make a cup of tea. She was confused at first, tired and reluctant, but she went along with it. As I walked her through safely getting the kettle to boil, choosing her mug and tea bag, she started to perk up. After I explained how to leave the tea to steep, then told her that as long as she followed those steps each time she could make herself a cup of tea any time she wanted, her face glowed. She asked if she could add a spoonful of honey when it had steeped, and I told her of course, then left the kitchen. Ten minutes later I returned to the kitchen for something else, and she was sitting alone, at the big, empty table, hands wrapped around her cup of tea, inhaling the steam, and sipping, with a great, big smile on her face. That smidge of grown-up-ness in her own cup of herbal tea, the freedom to be able to make a cup herself any time. It seemed like nothing, but it filled her little growing-up heart so full that she was bursting. She's made herself three more cups in the last 18 hours since then, and she's yet to melt anything or burn the house down. A cup or ten of tea and a few late nights are worth it. Over and over again, they're worth it while we all grow, learn, and change. My daughter's worth it. She's not a minion to be screamed at, required obedience without question, demanded respect from without first showing her what respect looks like. She's worthy just by being her.