One of the things we did to celebrate my son’s birthday was visit my father in Little Rock. On the way back, I was tired. I hadn’t eaten. I had gotten up early, at the time I designated, so we could get on the road and return home in enough time to keep the bedtime ritual solid. It’s funny how much happens around a baby’s bedtime routine.
We got up early. I slept enough hours to feel like I could actually drive while awake. But I hadn’t gotten that much sleep, certainly not enough to deal with people, including a small one, expecting me to be social. My wife understood this about me at the time. She’s had enough experiences with me to know that I’m half sane before morning. She knows that morning to me is post 10a.m., and that any time before morning is still night. My son, well, he’s still learning about these things.
Somewhere, long after my real morning, and probably closer to the afternoon, I had been driving long enough to wish the trip was over. The boy had his naps. We stopped for lunch. Things were fine. But the kid started making noise. My eyes had started doing the things they do when I’m tired. I don’t exactly not see things in those moments, but I can tell that it takes more concentration and energy to focus. I get quieter. I pay more attention to how I’m holding the wheel.
Bryce whined and cried. I told him to stop. Of course, he didn’t listen. Well, he didn’t obey. I told him that I was not in the mood to hear his noise. He kept up the noise-making anyway. I raised my voice to match him. I turned up the music to drown him out. When he was smaller, music would settle him. He’d stop or moan or even bounce at the head. Coming back from Little Rock he just screamed. At some point he stopped fussing. But it was after I’d gotten short with him. It was after I made the mistake of losing patience, the thing I seem to lose so easily. He stopped after I marked my little parenting path with another small failure.
I thought about it that night. I wondered if he were piling up my mistakes and my wrongs in his little head. the way I had been I wondered, worse, if he wasn’t. I wondered how it was that he could so quickly forget my shortcomings and run to me with stretched up arms after his bath or his meal, asking me to hold him. I wondered if Bryce was secretly plotting in his crib to get even when he’s the one changing my diapers.
It would probably make me feel better if the boy was able to keep count of my errors and wrongs. It’d make me feel accomplished if I knew there was a correlation between good parenting moments and a good outcome with my son or bad moments and bad outcomes. It would leave me with something to count and organize and expect. From what I’m told by seasoned parents, though, that’s not the way it is.
God, having something to do with children-making and parent-developing, probably smiles at little thoughts like mine. Thoughts which hope that we could do the right things and get the right results. If I am patient enough, then I’ll be a better parent. If I am good enough at this parenting job, then the kid’ll come up bright and confident and handsome. That’s the essential parenting mistake in my increasingly muddy and yet clear view. It pushes grace out when we need it most. That car ride was just another current example of how I’m in need of a grace-giver, and not just the boy. This short spark of a fuse in my heart is an abiding reminder that the more my boy grows up, the more help I’ll need to raise him. I couldn’t get through that ride, yes, without the forebearance of my wife and a little help from some random country song by Rascal Flatts that mysteriously came on three separate stations in Missouri. But I couldn’t make it without God either.