There are times when life is sweet and easy. At least, I suppose there are. I glimpse them; mostly, I enjoy remembering them and hoping they’ll be back again someday. A few Sundays ago, I went to church without the Bears (Papa or Baby). I didn’t realize just how cool and easy parenting first and second graders had become. It was crystal clear, though, without the pressing need to chase the baby. Of course, I wouldn’t trade that pressing need for anything. I wouldn’t trade any of my difficult blessings for a simpler, easier, or wealthier life. But when life gets especially hard, I can fail to truly see those blessings.
I love my children. Always. There has never been a moment in time, not the briefest moment, when I have not loved my children. Liking them consistently, though, that was much simpler when they were all babies. I’m ashamed to admit it, and I’m sure someone will tell me that I’m awful and completely unfit as a mother. When life fills itself with hard day after hard day, though, His grace is sufficient…but sometimes mine is not.
Lately, I haven’t even tried to like my children. There hasn’t been time. I’ve loved them and cared for them…fed them and bathed them and cuddled them. I’ve loved them, like love is enough, and I’ve told them so at least twenty times a day. But in between the cuddles and meals has been a startling lack of “like”. I haven’t made time for them as individuals, lately. I haven’t showed them that I like them for them.
A few days ago, the three girls and I held court over a lie that I could not, for the life of me, discern. I let one of them go, feeling sure of her innocence; and, exasperated and tired, I continued to hold the other two. In the end, the guilty party confessed and apologized. Then we all went back to our lives, because lives call more loudly than children. I was painting a wall, downward stroke, when God told me that my daughter was wounded. She, the one innocent held over like she was guilty, had missed out on precious minutes of her day. And worse, her mother had really suspected her; and she knew it.
I dropped my paint brush into the tray, and I went to find my daughter. She was at Grandma’s kitchen table with a cousin, “I cannot believe I got in trouble for something I didn’t even do,” she was saying as I walked through the door. And I called her out, without explaining my purpose, “Come with me,” I said.
She stepped into her flip flops and followed me out the door. I grabbed her hand as she asked, “Where are we going?” But we walked in silence to the Corner Store and straight to the back wall for a Coke. As I placed a cold bottle into her little hands, her eyes lit brightly and she smiled sweetly. “For me?!” she beamed. “Yes, for you,” I answered. “I’m sorry I didn’t believe you today.”
We walked home laughing and joking, both sipping our ice cold Cokes. Tiny Dancer went back to Grandma’s, and I went back to my painting. And when Grandma asked her about the Coke, she just answered in a happy whisper, “My mom likes me!”
For the last few days, I’ve been thinking about “like,” and how our whole self-esteems are built around it. There are many people who have to love us, but no one is required to like us. To be liked is to be special. And that night, after hearing of her words to Grandma, I tucked her into bed and I told her that I liked her–not loved, she knows that–liked. “Why?” she smiled and quizzed, because liking always comes with reasons. And after five minutes of the many whys, she fell asleep with a heavy sigh. We need to be loved, but not more than we need to be liked.
And really, what’s not to like?