Perhaps you’ll never read this, but I need to have this moment recorded. You’ll be four in a few days and I am afraid that as you grow up I’ll be tempted to misremember you, to oversimplify you by calling you “my strong-willed child” or other such labels. I want to capture all of your complexity right now.
You broke my heart this week. You picked up the babysitter’s cat by the tail and this opened the door for a litany of little naughty things you’d done through the past few weeks at her house. This left me weeping in the bathtub at the end of another long day; long because your father and I had both worked a full day, your daddy was gone, and I had responsibilities at church that meant you and Rachel had to stay up too late. At home, you’ve been growing sweeter and more compliant and I was broken-hearted to discover that this wasn’t necessarily carrying over when we weren’t there. I start with this only to show, quite honestly, that you aren’t perfect.
But I want to focus on the sweetness that I see in you. You have become incredibly sweet. You’ve taken to putting your little hands on either side of my face and telling me, often, “You’re the best mom ever! You really are!” When I put myself down for being a less-than mother (and, oh, I confess that I am! I’ve seen Pinterest, honey!), you ask “Who said that about you? That isn’t true! You’re the best mom ever!” Even as I type these words, they seem so flat in black and white. I hope I can read them in years to come and remember the sweet indignant tone in your voice as you wonder how anyone could ever question my perfection as a mother.
The sweetest thing about you is that you understand grace. I might be tempted in a few years to convince myself that this couldn’t possibly be true of a four year old, but I know it right now. I’m not sure you even know the word “grace” but I know that you understand what it means. I know this because you tell me every mean character (Jafar, Gaston, etc.) just needs to learn how to be nice. I know this because you listen to the song “Bad Babies” and you say “Mom, babies aren’t really bad. They are just learning to be nice. This singer is mean and naughty because she is calling babies bad!” (I reply, “The singer is just learning to be nice, too!” and you say “You’re right, mom!”)
I know that you understand grace because you long for it. You can get stuck in this naughty cycle. You do something wrong, you get frustrated and embarrassed and you continue to do naughty things out of that anger. Your dad knows best how to pull you out of the fury, help you confess and apologize, and forgive you. You are learning how sweet it is to confess–to stop hiding your sin, acknowledge your mistake, apologize, and discover that you are loved no less for it! I love the way you say right away “But you forgive me, mom, right? Right, mom?” even as I’m trying to send you into timeout. You want to be forgiven and restored so you can start over fresh.
But I’m afraid that you’ve learned so much about grace because you’ve had to offer it to me so often. I mess up, Claire. I get too angry over little things and I’ve done this for a long time. For a few years I held out hope that I would get my act together before you got old enough to remember me as imperfect; now I know you’re old enough that you will start to have memories of my occasional overemotional reactions. I’ve had to humble myself and apologize to you. You never hesitate a moment to forgive me. I hate that I have to ask you for forgiveness. I love that you give it so freely.
I guess this is what I wanted to tell you, more than anything. I’m afraid you will remember me not like I want you to remember me, but you will remember me more like I actually am. YET, if that is what it takes for you to truly understand grace, then it is a sacrifice I’m willing to make. If you remember me as frazzled and overemotional (instead of as competent, efficient, and confident), but you remember me apologizing for my outbursts and you remember forgiving me, I will have done my job. I’m an imperfect mother! If you remember that, but you remember that I never exhausted the Lord’s supply of grace, I will have done my job. Oh sweetheart, you need grace more than you need a perfect mom. So I’m sorry for the days I didn’t make you eat your vegetables. I’m sorry for the days I didn’t clean up the house or make you a hot breakfast. I’m sorry for the days I ended up in tears begging you to just please listen, please just put on your pajamas because mama is tired, too.
I know you will probably stop calling me the “Best mama ever!” right on schedule, like all little girls eventually do. But I love that you forgive me now and I hope you will forgive me later in your memories.