It gets SO much better.
There wasn’t even one tantrum. Not one open-mouthed wailing session.
The afternoon breeze blew softly through the line of trees overhead. the grassy berm of land bordering the walkway to the livestock exhibits had a string of Garton Tractors parked for display. Whomever was assigned to stand by and sell these vehicles had abandoned post, leaving these shiny new tractors all alone. So, tired from wandering through a hay maze and chasing the baby around in a corn pit, our family parked the stroller and climbed up the little hill. I lay on my back, my tired feet propped up on the tractor’s green side paneling of the back seat. I peered up at my husband, who perched atop the roof frame of this model, looking out at the river of fair-goers meandering to and from the barnyard Best-of-Show’s. The baby balanced a woggly stance on the grass beside me, gripping the bottom tractor step, and blinking into the breeze. Each of our older girls found their own front seat and steering wheel in two different tractors beside each other. I lay between them. Though we all occupied a different spot, we all were together, and we were each enjoying an impromptu break at the county fair.
It is our family tradition to go every year. But, the strange thing was, I was utterly enjoying myself with them this time, which has – to be honest – never happened before. Oh sure, there were moments at previous fairs where I would pause and enjoy the moment: seeing the ice cream drip off their chins, or waving at their smiling faces making another revolution on the choo-choo-train kiddie ride. But just think about it: take a few toddlers, and try navigating crowded spaces filled with potential kidnappers, blowing through naptimes, eating fried/greasy/syrupy foods that do nothing for maintaining healthy blood-sugar levels, trying to find cozy/safe nooks to nurse or change diapers, and marching small legs up and down stalls, stands, and booths. It’s a recipe for the nuclear meltdown of tiny sensibilities. Thus, it’s a day of manual and emotional labor for Mom and Dad. Like, why do we do this to ourselves?
This year, the morning of, as we were dressing our kids in brightly colored clothes and slathering sunblock on them, my husband asked what I was looking forward to at the fair this year. I shrugged and said that I would like to walk through the pavilion and peruse the nik-naks sold there. As soon as I heard the words slip out of my mouth, I felt about 80 years old. He mentioned how he wanted to buy a giant corn dog, and maybe a cinnamon roll.
Did you see what we just did there? We were gearing up for a day of massive parental work, and we knew it. Our expectations were, well, low. Lowered expectations will get you through. Take note, ye who let expectations run away with your brain. That is not the path to happiness that you seek. Keep it small, keep it simple, and keep your game face on, if you still want to have love in your heart for your family afterwards. Expect the reality of what’s to come, so that when the countdown toward imminent nuclear meltdown begins, you are ready with your emergency procedures of patience, love, and whole-grain granola bars.
This year, as we paid a day’s wages to park our car in a dusty field, we prayed together for our hearts and attitudes to be soft, and for us to have a plain-old good day together.
And God made it just so.
Our kids are now 6, 5, and 10 months. I think there’s magic in those ages. And, let’s be honest, a hefty amount of work, and God’s sweet intervention.
Bur older kids have had enough time on God’s green earth with us telling them the exact same things every day of their lives (ie parenting them) for them to largely internalize how we do things around here. It’s not that we are perfect parents: but we are worried parents – which makes us diligent parents, and praying parents. We worry that the constant bickering between our girls, if left unchecked, will grow seeds of hate in their hearts toward each other. We worry that their lack of self-control, if left un-trained, will turn them into immature, selfish adults, lonely adults, who don’t have much to give to their significant relationships. I mean, this is training ground here people.
“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6
It feels like we will have a better time of it, enjoying our children’s company and developing deeper opportunities to shepherd their hearts, if we put in the work and prayer of parenting them early on. What that feels like initially is WORK. What that looks like in the little years is congratulating ourselves that we even made it to the summer fair. Once inside, of course, we would spend the majority of the time searching for bathrooms, trying to explain the impossible concept of being a good sport when your sister got the prize you wanted from the ducky game, and dealing with all of the tantrums for all of the things that don’t make any sense anyways.
But what this felt like this year was… fun. And peace. Tiny voices communicating their needs and desires well, and reasonably. It was fantastic. It was growth. It was the fruit of time passing and parenting efforts logged.
That day at the fair, we hung around the tractors for a while longer, enjoying to soft green grass underfoot and the rustling trees overhead. The girls held pretend “races” between their tractors, the baby circled the tires, and my husband and I laughed about I don’t remember what. But I remember the feeling. A feeling of peace, of feeling completely okay, and hopeful. If this is the product of “training our children in the way they should go,” if this sheer enjoyment of their company is an inkling of things to come, then I think I may be raising my new best friends. I know I know. Don’t be one of those moms. But these children are quickly becoming some of my favorite people. Their expressions, ideas, and blossoming personhoods are thrilling to witness over time.
We hopped down from our tractors and headed to the cow milking demonstration. As we went, I tucked that little feeling deep into my heart. I realized that a hope for the future has already arrived a little bit. My children are a little bit old, and not turning from their training. Yes, we are still parenting them fervently every day, but there are times when they make their own choices to share, show empathy, take turns, and use their words to express their frustrations. We are seeing a little bit of the results of our work, the work that exhausts me, that I ask God grace for every day, but that I can’t quite pin down when asked the question, “What did you do all day?
Except for that day. If you asked me that day, I would say that I enjoyed the company of my husband and our blossoming children, playing at the fair, all to my utter astonishment.