I'm sure she could tell by my posture—back ramrod straight, shoulders drawn up so high they could be worn as earrings and the wicked bitch brow I was sporting—that we were most certainly not exchanging “I love you's” in the grocery store parking lot.
From the corner of my eye, I saw her approaching with a knowing smile and patient eyes. Moments ago I was tense and ticked off. In the seconds it took this well-meaning woman to put her shopping cart away and cross the parking lot to where I stood, I hit Defcon 1. I knew exactly what she was going to say before a single word passed her lips.
“Oh honey. The time goes so fast. One day you'll long for them to tag along to the grocery store.”
Next came the grandmotherly squeeze to my forearm and unintentionally patronizing smile. And let's not forget the wink tossed in my son's direction.
But at that moment I didn't want any help. I didn't need to be reminded that while the days drag, the years fly. I didn't need to be told that one day I will long for the tasks that once seemed so difficult and exhausting. At that moment, in that parking lot I couldn't think of anything more glorious than the idea of running to the grocery store without either of my kids.
I'm aware that one day I will look around and find little evidence of my children around my house. I recognize that distance will give me perspective and that perspective will show me that so many of the things I obsessed over were truly inconsequential. I have no doubt I will regret many things I've done and said and I pray my children will have the grace to forgive me and understand I did the best I could.
But the simple truth is this: I cannot miss my children if they never leave my home because they are unable to function in the world and take care of themselves. And so while they are with me I will teach the million life lessons they will need, even the tough ones, because THAT is love: complicated, messy, tough and sweet.
The stern talking to in a parking lot, the loss of the latest coveted-technology obsession, the scream your head off, drop a bad word, snot wiping arguments are also facets love—just like calm discussions, hugs and soft words.
Every mom is trying to find the delicate balance between grace and accountability.
“When you look back you won't remember how messy the house was or the laundry sitting unfolded in the basket.” That might be so. However, when my son arrives to an interview you better believe his hair will be combed, he will have applied deodorant and he'll be wearing a clean shirt and matching socks. You know why? Because I endured all the arguments, reminders, lectures and nagging it took to teach him about appropriate dress and the importance of good hygiene. I fought the fights worth fighting to teach him the skills he needed to survive and thrive in the world outside my home.
Love is at the heart of everything I do and say. Even words sometimes draped in anger or frustration are rooted in love. It is love that gives me the strength to do the hard messy work. Love is what drives me to remind them to put their things away, brush their teeth, say please and thank you, show gratitude, eat right, do their homework right the first time. And it's love that gives me what it takes to remind them all of those things again a few minutes later, and the next day and the following month and all the years they live in my home. Because if there was no love, I wouldn't care what they do or how they act. I wouldn't bother.
What my son needed that Saturday morning in the grocery store parking lot was a reminder that disrespect is not tolerated in our family and that huffing and puffing are not acceptable reactions when Mom says “no.” He needed a lesson in contentment because he will not get everything his heart desires, even if it's only a bag of chips. He needed to be taught that poor behavior has consequences, whether it's the loss of a toy or a ticked off mom. My son needed to learn, in our tiny sliver of the great big world that he will one day need to navigate, that there are expectations of his behavior, his attitude and his words and I love him enough to make sure he’s ready to meet them.
What better place to learn those things that in our family? Our home is his first experience with community, the place where every lesson is given to help him, every apology is accepted and every ounce of grace will be given unconditionally?
Who better to teach him those lessons than his mother who gives him endless do-overs and second chances? A mother whose toughest lessons are rooted in a love so great and so mighty that she will spend her days repeating herself and enduring her child's anger and her nights on her knees praying for patience, strength and discernment, hoping she has done and said the right things? This mother who is rigid and angry in the parking lot loves you so much she will spend her life trying her best and knowing she will fail often while holding on to the hope that, when it is all said and done and you are out there in the world, you will finally understand what love looks like—unconditional, unending, and sometimes messy and complicated.
Love is as the heart of all I do for my kids—the good, the bad and the messy. And though I will miss them when one day they are not beside me in the grocery store or there are no shoes to step over or backpacks to pick up, my hope is that they are out in the world loving someone else enough to do the hard stuff and fight the fights worth fighting…like having difficult conversations in grocery store parking lots.