The other day I was having a conversation with Ian, one that we have several times a day. He had emerged from a timeout for some misbehavior that I can’t remember and I guess you could say I was giving him a lecture.
At the end I made a point to say, “Ian, I know you can obey. I know God can give you the power to do it. I just know it!”
Half the time in these sort of situations he’s barely making eye contact with me and I wonder if all the effort I am putting into parenting him is only going to amount to me getting wrinkles and having a nervous breakdown.
But this time Ian did something unusual. His face formed into a grimace, what I affectionately like to call the stink eye. He raised his fist up close to his face and started shaking it.
I assumed this was just pushback and I retorted, “Ian, why are you angry again?”
He said, “NO, MOM!!! This is me telling myself that I CAN DO IT! I CAN OBEY!”
Oh, Ian. There is no one else in the whole world like you.
I’ve thought about you in your sixth year and what I would like to say to you and to say to the world about you. And so here I go, I’ll say it as best I can.
First, all the emotion inside you, including that display of such passionate determination I just mentioned, is going to amount to something pretty incredible someday. Your dad and I’s goal is to help you channel it.
Being an emotional person means, for you, being angry a lot. And when you’re angry, everyone knows it. You give us that stink eye, and a growl, and stomp off. Sometimes you try to punish us by saying you are going to stay in your timeout FOREVER so that we’ll miss you terribly. Sometimes you try to argue and sometimes all you can do is just yell (believe me, I get that).
Sometimes that anger is just plain anger because you’re a sinner like the rest of us. But sometimes what’s underneath is sadness and a deep sense of injustice. On rare occasions, if I prod and dig a little, you will show me your tears, which I consider a precious gift. Sometimes after a showdown, if I’m calm enough myself, I’ll crawl up into your bed and try to help you unfurl all the emotions that are going on inside you. I’m not sure if that’s working, I suppose time will tell.
Though you give push back and hesitate to commit yourself to a lot of things, when you do, there is a great sense of loyalty and devotion you give out. I saw this when Beatrice was born. Admittedly, you were quite disappointed she was a girl. You hid in the hallway and wouldn’t come in to meet her.
But then, on your own, when no one was paying attention, you ran down to your room and brought up a doll bed to lay her in and blankets to wrap her up in. You’ve been her favorite ever since. I would think her armpits would hurt from being carried around by you, with your arms wrapped around her chest and her feet dangling. She doesn’t seem to mind, and you haven’t dropped her yet.
As for your other sister, there have been times I’ve wondered if you have much empathy for Imogen. She is a dependable and constant playmate, but also one of your biggest annoyances. Empathy is one of those things your dad and I really want for you guys. It’s the kind of thing that only God can grow in a person, which of course makes me feel totally helpless and occasionally terrified.
But just as sometimes you give me the gift of your tears, you also give us glimpses of the deep love you have for people, and Imogen in particular. I will never forget the time you and Immy were careening down the hill in front of our house on your bikes and she crashed into the ground. I saw it from far off and it looked awful, her body hit the pavement and saumersalted. Your dad started sprinting down the street toward her.
You were right there and you stopped your bike immediately. Knowing nothing else to do, you took off your sweatshirt and laid it over her body as she screamed. I saw you do it; it was completely instinctual. I wonder how you must have felt in that moment. You are a kid now and what you can do is limited, but when you grow up and become a man, you will have the opportunity to help many hurting people with your love. It may feel like helplessness to you even then, but it won’t be. I hold onto that memory of Imogen, a small little thing far off, covered in your favorite green sweatshirt. It helps me on the hard days because, Ian Haggard, parenting you can be hard sometimes.
Part of the reason why it’s hard is because you and I are cut from the same cloth. Your dad reminds me of this pretty much every day. He usually does it when you are angry or disobedient, which frustrates me. But he would also admit you get some pretty special character traits from me, too. I hesitate to even make the comparison between us because I don’t want you to feel that you are living in anyone’s shadow. And I can, at times, have a big, monstrous shadow.
Do know that because we are so alike, I will remain one of your greatest cheerleaders. When I see you a ball of anger, feeling as if the whole world is against you, inside I’m saying to you “I KNOW! I GET IT, IAN!” When you refuse a bite of dessert because you can’t have the whole thing, I understand. When you self-sabotage the best of situations, I know how much you’re missing because I’ve missed out, too–too many times to count.
And so there is this empathy I have for you in the sins you struggle with, coupled with the deep devotion I have to parenting you to the best of my ability (because just like you, when I’m in, I’m ALL IN, baby!). Admittedly, I don’t want you to turn out like the worst parts of me. I fuddle through parenting you and ask God to help me; saying no when it’s needed, creating boundaries, doling out consequences and explaining to you how life works. I want you to enjoy all the blessings that come with obedience to the Lord. I want all that still needs to be shaped for God’s glory, to be malleable. Also, I don’t want you to be that kid throwing a tantrum on the football field or in the work place or with your wife.
One of the things I really admire about you is your desire for quality time with those you love. You are completely engaged when with the special people you consider in your inner circle and you are constantly inviting us into your world. I have to remember that invitation is a gift and not an annoyance. I admit there are many times I say no to you because of my own agenda. But there will come a day when you will stop inviting me because you’ll be growing up (as you should). And I won’t be able to enter into your little world of Lego spaceships equipped with missiles and guns, robotic dancing to loud, fast-moving music, silly chasing with your sister, and quiet times sitting on the couch, shooting the breeze as only 6-year-old boy can do.
I hope that in the coming years I give you so many more emphatic “yes”s when you request quality time with me. Despite this being a weakness of mine, God has still inserted some wonderful memories into our life together as mother and son. There are two in particular that I will always remember.
The first was back in March. I was finally to the point of emerging from weeks of postpartum recovery after Beatrice was born. Miss Sarah was watching the girls one afternoon and I had a burst of energy, so you and I set out for a walk.
When I spend time with you doing whatever it is that you want to do, I learn all kinds of things about you – what you’re thinking about, the memories you have stored up in your brain, your musings about your surroundings. This day wasn’t any different, but it was especially delightful because it had been so long since I had zeroed in on you and you alone.
We ended up in the woods behind the HEE where we found the beginnings of what we made into a really awesome fort. It was a completely spontaneous effort and I had so much fun. We dragged and carried lots of tree limbs that had been knocked down from a recent windstorm to our special spot. This is what we created:
I’ve built a lot of forts in my day; this was definitely the best! And look at the delight on your face, a reflection of a full heart.
Another memory I hold close is the time we went on a family outing to Richmond Beach. It was the end of summer and the days were getting cooler. You had been asking and insisting that we go to this particular spot for a few weeks and each time I had vaguely committed and then bailed out. But you really wanted this. So we all eventually went, including Grandma T.
We had a lovely time, sitting on the beach eating snacks in the early evening, playing in the water and building a sand castle. As we walked back to the car you pronounced loudly and with a deep sense of gratitude, “That was the best trip to the beach EVER! Thank you for taking me!” Grandma laughed with amusement and surprise. I stopped and recognized that moment for what it was, so I could keep it with me and not forget it. You kept expressing your thanks all the way home. You really do feel most happy and alive when spending special time with those you love and who love you.
Here you are, with the sand castle you built with Dad. You look like a younger version of yourself in this photo, like a little boy, and I love it!
You are now officially six years old, after having a really nice birthday and an awesome Lego birthday party. Over the course of the last year, you covered a lot of ground. You acquired another sister. You said goodbye to Miss Sarah and hello to Miss Laurel. You started kindergarten, both at home and in your classes at the HEE. You saw your first movie in a movie theater. You caught your first fish. You got glasses and you lost your first tooth. You’re starting to read and we’ve discovered you’re pretty darn good with numbers (which your dad takes credit for, of course).
You’re a pretty amazing, Ian Haggard. With that emotion and intelligence, and with God, of course, you’re going to do some great things in this world. Have fun keep going, even when it’s hard. I will be cheering you on. I’ll probably be crying on the sidelines and yelling, of course, because I’m just as emotional as you are.