Grace is one of those words I struggle to define. It’s grown to mean more than just elegance or poise in my opinion. It’s a word that I’d use to describe a woman, never a man, and this distinction intrigues me. A man can have finesse, but that’s not the same thing as grace.
To my mother, it means a complete acceptance of God’s will. To me, it means being able to keep my cool when having to tell my eldest to put on her shoes for the fifth time while my youngest is crying because she’s been sitting in the stroller for five minutes–waiting for my eldest to put on her shoes!
There’s a direct causal correlation between my ability to handle my children calmly–dare I say gracefully–and the amount of sleep I had the night before. The phase of life I’m in at the moment requires that I live life like a trench soldier. I sleep in shifts more nights than I’d like to admit. There are some nights when I get five hours sleep, broken into two parts with a stint of me warring with one and then the other child. Unfortunately, I’m not the kind of mother who can sleep when her child is crying. I will lie there and wait patiently, perhaps to the outside observer gracefully, until one or both fall back asleep. But the truth is I’m seething on the inside. I’m cursing up a storm! I’m tossing and plotting for their teenage years when I get to wake them up for no other reason than I think they’re sleeping too late.
This is not grace. This is fatigue.
Having children has been a mirroring experience. I now see myself through their eyes. When my eldest was just eighteen months, we were walking in the mall once. I was pushing her empty stroller and she was walking beside me pushing her new toy stroller. I had one hand on my hip for some reason I can’t recall, and when I looked down she had placed her hand on her hip as well. To this day she mimics me. The good and the bad. Knowing this makes me want to be a better person, someone worthy of emulating. Someone graceful.
But it’s not easy. I struggle to find grace on those mornings when I’ve been up for two hours the night before because my youngest just had to tell me about her day at 2am. My eldest senses my fatigue and low tolerance threshold, and she mirrors it. It is those mornings that she doesn’t want to go to school, can’t put on her uniform, insists on non-matching socks after I’ve already put on a matching pair, and despite being hungry, there’s nothing in the house to her liking for breakfast.
I see my frustration approaching like a tidal wave. I tell myself to keep calm. I stop and search for grace, but it feels like on those mornings I fail to find it. Intellectually, I tell myself that I’m human. Who wouldn’t lose it in this circumstance?
When my children reflect on their childhood I want them to smile involuntarily. Fun and safe are two of the first words I want them to think of when asked to describe these years. But equally important they need boundaries and they need to learn appropriate family and social behaviors, which means there will be time spent in the corner and sad faces will decorate the calendar on some days. They will see me frustrated, and that’s okay because grace isn’t the absence of frustration, but the acknowledgement of it. Gaining control of it. Showing them how to manage those conflicting emotions without lashing out.
Right now I am a trench soldier. Some nights I will be pulled from a deep sleep by the sounds of my eldest falling out of bed or my youngest wailing because her teeth are breaking through the gums. Sometimes there won’t be a discernible reason for their insomnia, and yes, I will be frustrated by it. But they will be loved and they will be safe, and for now, that’s grace enough.