A while back one of my sons sent me a short video of his one-year-old son throwing a temper tantrum. Accompanying the video he wrote, “Here’s just a taste of what happens when we don’t let baby play in the toilet.” In the video my adorable grandson is rolling back and forth on the carpet, crying as if he’s been mortally wounded. He pauses as if to see if anyone is paying attention, then he pounds his feet against the floor over and over and continues to howl. Of course, I’m the grandmother, so I laughed and laughed. I don’t recall feeling that amused when my own children threw tantrums, but I was fairly naive when I first began my adventure of parenthood and I don’t think I handled their tantrums very well. I’d like to think I’ve helped my children be better parents than I was.The first time I watched the video, which was very small on my cell phone screen, I could see my son’s foot in the frame at what appeared to be somewhat of an awkward angle, but I didn’t give it much thought. When I viewed the video on a bigger screen, I realized that he had his foot over the corner of an end table to keep his child from bumping into it and hurting himself while he got the tantrum out of his system. I actually felt moved to tears. As I considered why it made me emotional, a mixture of insights came to mind. I could clearly see now that while my son was patiently waiting for his own son to calm down and accept the situation, he was making certain he didn’t get hurt in the midst of his absolutely ridiculous infantile behavior. At least infantile behavior is expected when you’re barely one. When you’re one, playing in the toilet is fun. There’s no comprehension of the germs or the possibility of falling and bumping your head on hard porcelain. Knowing my son and his wife, it was likely one of the cleanest toilets in the world. Still, playing in the toilet is one of the first experiences this child will have of being kept away from harmful behavior by his parents. He’ll have to learn about hot stoves and sharp scissors and crossing streets. In his one-year-old brain, he only sees the chance for discovery and pleasure. It’s up to his parents to keep him safe. And they do.Some days later the tenderness I’d seen in the tantrum video (which I have dubbed it) settled into me more personally. I consider myself to be fairly mature emotionally and spiritually, and I only say that because I’ve worked very hard to become that way and I try to be mindful of my behavior and attitudes. However, there are facets of my life that I am not very happy about, and I’m struggling to understand. Metaphorically, am I kicking and screaming because I want to play in the toilet because it’s fun and it’s what I want? Am I simply not trusting that God can see the bigger picture of my life, that He has a perspective I can’t understand? Maybe he’s protecting me, refining me, teaching me. Or all of the above. Is He figuratively keeping his foot over the corner of the table to keep me from bumping my head until I get my current state of emotional unrest out of my system? Is he just waiting for me to be still and accept that things are not the way I want them to be, but the way they need to be? I don’t know the answers to all those questions, but I do know God is in charge and my gratitude for that knowledge is deep.Considering what I know of human behavior, I think tantrums come in many forms. Is it emotional eating? Getting angry with someone over something stupid? Refusing to let go of a misunderstanding in a relationship? You get the idea. The possibilities of adult tantrums are limitless. I’ve now paused to consider what ridiculous behavior I might be preoccupied with while my Father in Heaven is just watching and waiting patiently for me to get over it while He tries to keep me safe.While this very thought was strong on my mind (because it was for several days) I went with one of my other sons to see his sons play soccer. Two boys of different ages were competing in different sections of the same field, so I was able to watch them both a little bit and let them see my face with the hope that they would know I love them and care about what they’re doing. While my son’s wife was coaching the game of their younger son, I walked over to that field to observe. For the record, trying to coach four-year-olds playing soccer is like trying to herd cats. It’s very entertaining for the onlookers, but nothing much is getting accomplished. My daughter-in-law deserves a medal for getting out there and trying to create some order in the chaos just so her son can be part of a teamBack at the other field, where my nine-year-old grandson was playing, the game was actually a game. I sat with my son and the two-year-old little sister of the athletes while the game progressed. With the exception of keeping an eye on his daughter (who is the reason the term “terrible twos” was created) my son kept his eyes tuned perfectly to his own son playing soccer. He cheered him on and shouted encouragement and never stopped watching. He wasn’t pretending to be interested; he really was. For me, little in life has felt as fulfilling as seeing my own children being good parents. So, my heart was warmed and I was so glad to be there—even though it was cold and a little rainy.When the game was over, my son put the chairs and the big lawn umbrella in their carrying cases and we headed toward the parking lot. This was when his little daughter started crying to see Mom. He explained to her that they were going to put the stuff in the car and then find Mom, but she wasn’t listening. Finally she just sat down on the grass and refused to move. We were quite a ways ahead of her before it became evident she wouldn’t be talked out of moving. Then I watched my son patiently walk back, and with cases already hanging from one shoulder, he gently picked his daughter up by her shoulder, and with masculine strength and the evidence of much practice, he efficiently swung her over his free shoulder like a little bag of grain and held tightly to her to keep her safely there, and on we went.Again I saw metaphors of life in this simple act. She was being stubborn and difficult because she wanted what she wanted and she didn’t have the patience to do things in the right order. But her father just lifted her up and carried her with patience and tenderness. He didn’t get angry or frustrated. He just did what he had to do to watch over his child. And I watched and wondered how often my Heavenly Father has lifted me up from my stubborn declarations of “I’m not going any farther” and just carried me over his shoulder until I’m ready to walk on my own againI wrote last time about the wisdom of waiting, and of being still. I feel a sense that part of my need for stillness is to learn to recognize whether or not I’m being stubborn or ignorant or naive, and to trust that God is watching over me even if I don’t feel it in the moment. The youngest of my three sons is expecting his first child this summer. I see the precious waiting and anticipation in him and his wife as they make preparations and try to imagine how dramatically their lives will change. I love this baby already and can’t wait to meet her. And I wonder what she might teach me about waiting and being still and not throwing my adult version of tantrums. Perhaps waiting can be compared to being in a womb. It’s dark and crowded and we’re squirming and kicking and just waiting to be ready to come out, which is not unlike the butterfly in the chrysalis. Funny how life is full of lessons, everywhere we look. We are born and we learn and grow and we are reborn, sometimes again and again as we move toward the person we came here to be. For now, I’m going to try a little more to act like an adult and stop kicking and screaming. But I’m going to continue to be amused as I observe my grandchildren try to figure out this world, and eventually realize just how loved they are.
Anita Stansfield aka Elizabeth D. Michaels (All of Anita Stansfield's books, and The Horstberg Saga by Elizabeth D. Michaels, are available at amazon.com)