“By perseverance, the snail reached the ark.”
I have a very active daughter. It was something that I never expected. For some reason I believed that because I spend so much time with my little one, she would be focused and attentive and make eye contact all the time and become a completely demure, sensitive little angel. She would love butterflies and bees and books from the get-go and be excited about sitting still in church. She would respond immediately when I spoke her name and look at me with reverent, loving, obedient eyes that barely strayed.
And my daughter is sweet, but she is spunky. Everything is “funny” to her and where I was a quiet, attentive child, she is a mischievous, fun-loving scalawag who loves to laugh and to “show off.”
First, I struggled with holding her towards me. She wanted to face out—from when she was a few months old. And while there is nothing wrong with facing her outwards sometimes, and regardless of psychological studies and theories, I felt convicted that it was better that she faced towards me, to build a connection and a love-bond from infancy. So I struggled and I purposed and made a concerted effort to face her towards me, slowly at first, little by little, brick by brick. And though she didn’t like it at first, now she is just as content and comfortable facing towards me as she was facing out. This tiny but important “battle” was won.
My second (and more difficult) battle was a battle with books. Now, my sisters and I loved books when we were little, and still do. I remember reading on my Mother’s lap for hours when we were very young, and spending hours with her in different libraries, reading book after book after book. She began when we were only a few months old, and instilled in us a love for reading and for listening to books being read. I thought that Debbie would take to books right away—and she did—only, not to read books, but to try to eat them—and then, to try to grab them from my hand whenever I tried to read to her. At first, this wasn’t a problem when I could lay her in a Boppy pillow on my bed and read to her each day for a lengthy amount of time. However, the more “mobile” she became, the more flustered I felt as she wouldn’t “allow” me to hold a book and read to her, unless I held it far enough away from her to not be able to grab it or gave her something else to hold.
This should not be, I kept thinking, and felt frustrated by the situation, without really dealing with it “head-on,” hoping that she would outgrow this stage in her development.
But as I prayed about the situation, I became convinced that I needed to deal with it right away, rather than waiting for it to “right” itself. I needed to engage my daughter, lovingly and firmly, to guide her in the discipline of sitting still while I read to her. This would be the more difficult way, but in the end, I believed, worth the momentary struggle.
Day by day, I set aside specific times to “practice” this discipline, and at first, just as with facing towards me, Debbie didn’t like it at all. She squirmed and grabbed and whined, and I wondered if things would ever change. But I stuck to it, sitting for small amounts of time at first and then gradually lengthening them and sitting more frequently to read to her. I also sought to focus her attention when I spoke to her, to make sure that she was making eye contact with whatever object I was talking to her about.
It was not easy. And at times I felt like maybe this wasn’t the answer—maybe her personality was one that couldn’t be molded in this direction. But then, I kept at it, and, all of a sudden, it seemed, Debbie liked to read books. Debbie would sit still to read books, for 15 minutes at a time at first, and then, up to 30, and even began to smile and really enjoy them. Her concentration and focus improved, and I am grateful to the Lord for the change that I see in her, by His grace.
I think of athletes, disciplining their bodies so that excellence in their specific sport is achieved. I think of my old piano teacher, Al Conte, and the hours that he spent going over and over and over scales, his fingers nimble as a cricket. I think of "old-fashioned” drilling of times tables and spelling words and Latin roots (and so much of that is lost now in our schools, to our detriment, I think). Because discipline and perseverance produces character and order . . . the opposite of chaos. The opposite of my daughter not being able to sit still, the beginning of her possibly becoming a distracted, unfocused child. She is already prone towards distractedness; the Lord allowed me to realize this early so that I could bend the wood while it was still limber. It is a constant mental effort for me, but it is a battle that I cannot afford to lose for her sake and for mine, and for His sake, because He has entrusted her to me.
I realized through this that I need to give my all—all of my energy in each moment, in every situation--all of my focus, no matter how tired, how worn out I feel. It is worth it—and my soul is actually refreshed and encouraged the more that I practice this discipline. Not perfectly (I fail all the time and then have to “get back up” again) but, by His grace, determinedly.
Whether with one child, or with six, through His power, I must give my all. There was a missionary who prayed so often that he developed calluses on his knees—as a mother, I need to develop “calluses” on my child-raising knees, figuratively-speaking. Not to be afraid to persist in training my child/children in an area that is a seeming disaster or frustration. To the glory of God; to the good of my soul, and of my child’s, too. It will be worth it. Because when we give our all, all of ourselves, then there is nothing left of self to hide behind, to cling to, to whine through. We are ready to be used of God in the life of our child.