Today after school when everyone was getting settled in the house, Luke told me that his bottom teeth hurt when he bit into his apple at snack-time. It took me a few seconds, but then it hit me: his teeth are loose! And, sure enough, those two bottom middle teeth are wiggling. As soon as I felt them move under my finger I got choked up. You expect your oldest child to go through these things because, well, they’re the ones that grow up first. But it takes me by surprise when the younger kids start hitting milestones. And that wiggly tooth is a milestone for me.
When I told Marc about it and how emotional I was by it he said, “Well, what did you expect?!” I replied, “I guess that he was going to be an annoying three year old forever! But he’s actually growing up.” That’s when it really hit me, the effect that Luke has had on me and how much I really love him.
He has not been the easiest child to raise. It started with the day he was born when he made his bold and swift 9lb 9oz entrance into the world before the doctor even arrived. Then imagine nursing an 18lb three month old child who just keeps growing and growing. His babyhood was overshadowed by his sheer mass! He wasn’t a difficult baby personality-wise, but he sure was big.
Then 18 months hit and I realized that I no longer had a child who took to silent reading as her hobby of choice. Nope. I had a boy. And he was on the go. And by that point, I had a constipated (literally, for a year!) 3.5 year old to look after and another baby on the way, and chasing after the 40lb little man was really quite exhausting.
And I lost my patience all the time. And I didn’t understand the way his brain work — why he always had to be moving and touching and hitting and destroying things. And my patience… did I mention my patience? I think from about age 2 to age 3.5 I just didn’t know what to do. I didn’t get it — all that energy.
Which brings us to the move to Manitoba — a place where my kids were suddenly interacting with other kids all the time. They hadn’t done that much in PA because there were no other kids at the church, and the days and nights were always full for Marc and I, and honestly I didn’t really have the energy for being around other people’s kids and my own. I think I can safely say I went through our first year at Prov mostly embarrassed and almost always panicked about Luke’s interactions with the other kids. He was just so big. And boys are just active. But when you put an over-sized, active boy in a room full of kids who were all small for their age (Why? Oh why? Did they all have to be small for their age?!), it just equals T.R.O.U.B.L.E. and A.N.X.I.E.T.Y.
It wasn’t until this summer that I started unpacking all of the feelings from the year. It’s not like I wasn’t dealing with Luke and disciplining him and guiding him all year. He just didn’t always listen. But that’s normal! No kid listens all the time. It’s just that I could not emotionally handle him being disobedient. But here’s the thing: it wasn’t about his disobedience; it was about how his disobedience made me look. I was the “bad mom”. I thought everyone was judging me. And so I reacted to Luke out of those thoughts. And it was horrible. I was horrible. I lost my temper with him so many times because I was filled with this rage about … well… it seemed like everything! My own insecurities. My conceptions of others. Frustrated that Luke wasn’t perfect and I wasn’t perfect and nothing. would. ever. be. perfect. It’s like Luke got the brunt of all of my existential angst, and that’s a lot to put on a 4 year old!
Once I figured this all out and these realizations began to sink in, I began to see Luke in a different way. And myself. And others. I realized I could love Luke without strings attached. I could love him for who he was, even if it meant loving “the boy who makes all the kids cry at playgroup”. If I couldn’t love the little boy who doesn’t quite think before he gives someone a push, what would happen if this little boy turned into someone who pushed drugs onto people?! I needed to love Luke as he was now, and that meant forgetting all of my insecurities.
And I did it. I really, really did it.
Does that mean I don’t get mad at him anymore? Um, no. Anyone who walks by our trailer at about 7pm every night will hear me either yelling or proclaiming loudly to him (like I did last night): “I’m going to try really hard not to yell at you tonight, so you need to try really hard to listen as you get ready for bed!” But the anger is directed at the right thing now. It’s not anger aimed at my own parental failings but taking a detour through Luke first. I don’t get after Luke for making a mess of his toys and at the same time throw in all my rage about how the house will inevitably be messy for the next 15 years unless I spend all day cleaning it. Nope. For the most part, Luke gets the anger that is directed just at his misbehaviours. Yes, some days there are still a lot of them — like on Halloween day when it seemed like his brain was not connected to his body for most of the day. But things are in perspective now.
And when that tooth wiggled this afternoon, it showed me the real, live, wiggly truth that my kids are growing. They are not staying the same. Even more so, who they are is not bound up in who they were at age 3 (I don’t care what Freud says!). Luke is growing out of some of those frustrating features. But he is sure to find a new set of annoyances (just like the behaviours Madeline’s picked up these days). But I love my kids. And I accept that imperfection is a part of life. We will always let each other down and rub each other the wrong way, but that is also where you find real love. Love that doesn’t have silly expectations or have strings attached. It is love for who we are and where we are at. And I know that my love for Luke is especially deep for the very reason that he has challenged me to love all of him.
Sometimes it makes me sad (makes me cry, really) to think of how annoyed I’ve been at him for a good portion of his life. I mean, I know I’ve loved him through it all, but I did not take joy in who he was because who he was, in my opinion, was annoying. And that’s what I focused on: the annoying — to my own (and his own) detriment. But I try to have grace for myself there and recognize that love can actually be greater now because I see where it lacked.
So, yes. I love my Luke Timothy. I really do. And I cannot wait to see what the future holds for him and who he will become and how his life will continue to shape and challenge me. He really is a wonderful person.