As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Matthew 4:18-20
My oldest child, Aidan, is fifteen. Like his dad, he’s good-natured, warm, and caring. He actually says things like “I don’t really wanna go over to Tom’s house tonight. I need time alone to think” and “I was thinking of having the guys over this afternoon. Would that be okay or did you need me to help with the kids?”. I’m sure some parents want to rip my eyes out when I tell them these things, or they think I’m a bloody liar. But it’s true. He has never given me an “attitude”. He’s never been rude, condescending, or hurtful to me, at least not intentionally. I’m hoping his lovely nature is partly the parenting style Philip and I have chosen, but truth be told it’s probably in large part his temperament. Truth be told, many loving, warm, generous parents struggle with their kids during the teen years.
I think I’m going to be one of them. Because, you see, I do have other kids. There’s this one really fun, perky, cute one who is only going on eleven and I think she’s aging me five years for every year of her fun, perky, cute living. This is Claire.
Claire, Claire, Claire.
She is an example to me of what it means to live like Henry David Thoreau: like today is your last day, so you better grab it by its special place, look it in the eye, and announce, I’m here so whad’ya got, eh? She’s a little sun in the room — full of ideas, energy, and inspiration. A talented artist and devoted friend, she loves passionately and commits without reservation. She does everything BIG and FERVENTLY. The underside of this wonderful disposition is those long, cold silences when she’s been wronged (or thinks she’s been wronged) and the ear piercing shrieks when she’s angry (or sometimes really, really happy).
Take this weekend. On Saturday evening, Claire and I enjoyed a lovely time creating pretty things together, side by side. For a while I worked on a new purse, while she fussed around with a pillow project. Then she asked if we could both make a felt robin she saw in a book and I said yes. I put away my project and together we looked over the instructions for the robin and got to work. She cut out the pattern pieces, I used the pattern to cut out our fabric and we both started a robin, chatting and laughing like some wonderful ad for an attached family commercial.
Then it changed.
At bedtime, she was angry. With somebody. About something. Silence. Stomping. Retribution. Somebody needed to be punished for whatever had affronted this poor, betrayed child, only nobody knew what the heck was wrong. She went to bed with a furrowed brow and would not speak to any of us. I went to her room like I always do after lights out.
“Are you okay, Claire? Do you want to talk about it? ” SILENCE.
“Should I leave or do you want me to sit here with you?” A gruff flip of the covers over her shoulder told me to GET THE HELLOOKA OUT. So I left and let her have some space.
The next morning she turned her back to me when I told her we’d be seeing our friends the Schwarzes and the Markels at Mass. About this time I started to get really annoyed. I knew I hadn’t done anything to cause this kind of rejection. The thought crossed my mind, “Who the heck does she think she is? I am her MOTHER. She better shape up.” The actual words that crossed my mind were more spirited, but let’s just say, I was indignant. Fortunately I didn’t tell her what I was really thinking and instead said firmly, “I’m sorry you’re angry, but you still need to be ready for Mass by 9:20. No computers until you’re dressed and ready to go.”
At 9:20 she was dressed and we drove to Mass. When she saw that there was a pancake breakfast that morning after Mass she broke her silence and asked, “Oh! Can we go to the pancake breakfast?!” When I said yes, she jumped on me, kissed me, and said, “I LOVE YOU, MOMMY!” And that was it. The silent treatment was over. She has been happy, fun, and talkative since. It only took pancakes. Or did it?
The thing is, raising Claire is not over. It’s not about pancakes in the long run. During Mass, Father Mark reflected on the Gospel passage for the day, in which Jesus calls to Peter and Andrew to “come follow me” and they immediately drop their nets and follow him. Immediately. Father Mark talked about what this means for us as modern day disciples of Jesus: It means we let go of whatever is getting in the way of our doing what Jesus wants us to do. What does it mean for me to drop my net and follow Jesus? It means I let go of my old ways, things that keep me from living fruitfully with Jesus, from fulfilling the mission he has for me and my life. Claire is part of my fruitful living, my mission.
In my history, when somebody has wronged me, hurt me, I was very much like Claire. Holding grudges, pointing to my wounds, failing to see the wounds I’d caused. Now I’m a big girl, a grown-up. I hope I’m not that way so much anymore, but I can still see a bit of that in myself and I don’t like what I see. If I want Claire to become open, caring, and willing to work on problems with the people she loves, I have to lead the way, especially as her mother. My net is my pride, my occasional unwillingness to listen and compromise, my conviction that I must be right. I don’t want to pass on that net to my precious girl.
I need to help Claire understand and manage her own big emotions, but I do that partly by managing my own. It’s funny. Once again, God parents me through my parenting, heals me through my mothering. He is asking me to put down my net, a net I never would have noticed had it not been for Claire. The world might have looked at my pride and dubbed it strength or dignity. Nothing wrong with strength or dignity. But ignoring a neighbor for a year for setting off illegal fireworks is not dignity, it is pride — and that is the truth . . . and my net. We all have our nets — those things we don’t want to let go of, those things that get in the way of our following Jesus, of living the life he has planned for us. I have more nets than my pride, of course, but I’m so grateful that Claire has motivated me to commit to putting down my net of pride and following Jesus a little bit better.
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