Battle Hymn of the Shark Mother

It had been so long since it had surfaced, that I almost wondered if it were still there. Without our difficult dog around to test my patience and with the kids moving well-beyond the tough days of toddlerhood to become more cooperative and self-sufficient, the waters of home life have been relatively calm. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d screamed at the kids, squeezed an arm or let out an angry growl.

And then, my husband left on a week-long business trip…just in time for Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year.

In the morning, with the school boy home for MLK Jr. Day, there were the toppled tea sets and angry airborne vegetables between the siblings in the play kitchen, the blank stares when I told them to put on their shoes to go, the seat belt buckles that wouldn’t give in to little fingers insisting they could do it themselves, the doors creaking open and slamming shut during Mom-mandated nap time, and the backtalk and yelling when I said there was no time to read a book before basketball practice.

I tried my softer voice maybe 100 times that day, but now I felt my secret sin darting up like a jagged dorsal fin, cutting through breakers, circling. Adrenaline pumped through my veins. Muscles constricted. I clamped my teeth together and growled my ultimatums through them. Force is the battle hymn of the shark mother.

The guilt moved in just as fast as the rage. I scolded myself: “You should be able to handle this on your own for a few days. Other mothers could get their kids to obey without scaring them. They’re going to grow up remembering you as a crazy mess of a mom.” Salt water rushed. I gulped for breath before the next doubt.

When my daughter clung to my leg asking if I was okay and when she ran to get a towel from the kitchen drawer to blot my tears, I went at myself again: “You shouldn’t be putting your kids in position to have to take care of you.”

The minutes rolled on and I had to pull myself together, go numb really, and get us to basketball. I couldn’t look anyone in the eye for fear of a deluge, but it did me good to walk the wood floor of the church gym, to let the bounce of the basketball echo louder than my self-talk.

My son’s team recited the week’s verse in unison: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to get angry.” I shook my head at the irony and at my lack of self-control, then rubbed the puffy eyes hiding behind my glasses.

I thought of how “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger….” and how “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” I felt the grace soothing, pointing my sin into the depths of the sea, “because He delights in unchanging love.”

At bedtime, with a whole new round of kid defiance, I kept calm, letting grace be my battle hymn. When at last my son lay down to sink into dreams, I told him how sad it makes me when we don’t get along. Back from numbness, I apologized for all of the ways I overreacted that day. He pulled me close whispering, “I will always forgive you.”

Half an hour later, I heard the creak of wood at the top of the stairs. There he stood in a tentative pose, maybe afraid I’d yell again. Seems we both come at each other expecting the worst.

“It’s something nice.” I gave him a nod and he bounded down the steps. “I want to give you this…” he said, holding out his cuddly stuffed shark, “…for you to sleep with tonight.”

There was a tingle in my chest where the tightness was, warmth in my veins where the shiver of adrenaline had just a few hours ago flowed through. I pictured him laying in bed all those minutes, brimming with grace and thinking of how to show it.

I held the shark close, then pulled it back to the sight of felt teeth sticking out from a knowing smile. That would-be ominous dorsal fin looked instead like an arrow pointing skyward. I was tamed.

{There is nothing like receiving forgiveness and grace to make a mother want to give it again and again. How have you felt God’s mercy in moments when you’ve lost control of yourself? How does that impact the way you interact with your kids when they misbehave or resist your authority?}


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Take Heart Series ~ Feb 2013This post is part of the Take Heart series. This week we’re talking about everything from infertility to parenting woes. We’d love to hear about how God has helped you take heart in the midst of your own struggles in growing a family. Click over to yesterday’s post to link up your story!