It had been a great day. I chose to hold off on cleaning until afternoon, and, instead, played with my two toddler daughters all morning.
I was sitting with the 3 1/2 year old in my recliner chair, talking to her, when it happened. The worst occasion of instant pain that I’ve ever felt in my life.
The previous afternoon, I had snuck downstairs to answer a text from my sister who was in full-blown labor and actually deigned to text a thought to me, her older sister, in the midst of it. I took TEN minutes to reply a bit, and then came back upstairs to find that the toddlers had emptied both of the salt and pepper shakers all over my living room. They had recently, two days prior to this, painted the house in nail polish. Since then, I vowed to keep them in the same room with me at all times, but had taken simply TEN minutes to answer a few texts. And there it was – salt and pepper this time. All over the coffee table, fish tank table, hallway floor and kitchen floor.
Worst of all, they slunk away like they totally didn’t care, practically shrugging over the shoulders at me.
I lost it.
Which, for me, meant that I broke out into guttural sobs. I cleaned up the mess and went up to my bedroom and cried for about twenty minutes. In the midst of the sorrow, I thought, from another part of my brain, that I was acting like someone had died. I was sure I had pretty much gone insane by that point.
When my husband come home, and after we put the little Tasmanian Devils to bed, we sat up and talked for hours. I cried again, and told him that I couldn’t help myself. That I always turned to emotion in the moment. That I couldn’t NOT be angry with them, that I tended to lose it and weep, and that there was no hope for me being able to respond correctly when surprised with things that upset me.
I am an action-driven person. I talk before I think. I move quickly. I have great reflexes that have a mind of their own. I form habits easily. I am dramatic in the moment. And, I thought, as a mother of active toddlers, I was powerless to my own emotions. (And what’s more embarrassing than bawling in front of your own kids? Losing your sanity, at all, is humiliating.)
I wanted my husband to give me practical ways I could shut down my emotions and respond in gentle godliness to my children’s surprise attacks. I was convinced I was doomed to failure my whole life. I wanted him to give me a magical solution.
But what he did for me was pray. Then I was forced to go to sleep, dreading the next day.
So, picture me having a much better day, sitting in my chair with my older daughter on my lap, thinking, “This has been good so far!”
And then it happens.
My younger daughter appears out of nowhere, and, with no warning, BITES ME ON THE SHOULDER.
First of all, let me tell you, that I have never felt such pain in one short second. I thought eyebrow waxing was bad (I always cringe and make it worse). I thought burning your finger was bad. Wasp stings are no fun. And injections can go in at the wrong angle. But all of these “instant-on-instant-off” pains are nothing compared to being bit.
I have way more compassion for those of you who’ve been bit by an animal.
But, what was so fascinating for me, was, for the first time in my life (that I can remember), time slowed down. Like slow-mo in movies, time slowed to a crawl. I realized I was all ready to react the way one would to an animal or a burn or a bee sting
In the first millisecond
I need to lift my hand and smack something. If you’ve burned your finger, you jerk backwards quickly. If a bee stings you, you’d hit at it. I needed to make the excruciating pain stop, the millisecond I feel it, so I need to swing my hand at whatever is hurting me.
In the second millisecond
But I realize that that would mean hitting my child in the face. Because, oh my bloody stars, this is my child. Biting me. Catching skin AND muscle, and causing my body to scream. If I try to raise my hand and hit her off, I will hurt her. If I raise my hand and gently push her off, it will take too long. I need something to stop her NOW.
In the third millisecond
What can I do to make this stop? I can’t hit her, and it would take too long for my hand to get there gently. I must scream. And scream loud.
In the fourth millisecond
I have a low voice. People who haven’t met me in person before, but know me online, are always surprised when they hear it for the first time. So my scream didn’t sound like a high schooler on a roller coaster. It sound more like a lion roar mixed with a wail. But it was loud and effective.
In the fifth millisecond
Still screaming. Is this really faster?
In the sixth millisecond
Yes, it is! The teeth let go. My shocked two-year-old stumbles back, scared and crying, surprised at what she’s done, and surprised at the animal noise coming out of her mother. Only a quarter of a second has passed.
I sit there and stare at her, unable to process or think. I glance at my shoulder. It’s red, hurts with the memory of that immense pain, and there are tiny teeth marks. One broke the skin, but there is no blood.
I still stare.
I am completely calm. I carefully and gently pick the child up and carry her to timeout. I am completely calm. I set her down in her playpen, and walk away to let her think that one out.
Have I mentioned that I am completely calm?!
I sit down later and mull this situation over. I just slowed time. My brain really thought through all of that incredibly fast, faster than it ever has before. I was able to stop my reflexes, to stop myself from hitting her in the face, to pick a safe and more effective option. And then, unemotional and collected, I was able to sit her in timeout and talk to her about it rationally right after that.
I think back to my husband’s prayers. With God ALL things are possible. I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me. If I can control a physical body urge in a moment of panicky pain, I can totally not sob my way through cleaning up salt and pepper. I can totally not grind my teeth at my child disobedience. Did I not believe the Lord when He said ALL?
I think I’ve been too afraid to leap off the burning building, assuming the wings on my back aren’t real.
And this applies to anything. Discipline is an anti-human trait. Discipline is a God-trait. I may be addicted to the release emotionalism gives me when I’m angry or hurt, but there are other sinful addictions people can have. You may be addicted to porn, to lying, to smoking, to drinking, or to swinging your fists when upset.
Or how about the more acceptable sins? You may be addicted to over-eating, to entertainment, to technology, or to being fulfilled through friends. To making good things into idols, one after the other, filling the former’s place.
God says you can do ALL things through Christ who gives you strength.
Don’t be afraid that your addiction will never end so you never begin to make it end!
Pray about it! Pray about it constantly! Get someone else to pray about it with you, and to hold you accountable. And then have faith! If you have faith even the size of a mustard seed, you can move a mountain. Walk in faith the very next moment, spiritually thinking only about Christ’s promise to help you with your problem, and believe that He can cure you and heal you. Believe that daily, as you spend time with the Lord, He will “slow time down” for you and help you make the right decision when tempted.
Today, the repair guy called to set up an appointment to fix my washer machine. I’m sorry, but, when you have potty-training toddlers, you need to be able to do laundry NOW. This had escalated to a national emergency at my house. The washer machine HAD to run.
He asked, “We’ll be out tomorrow. Any biting dogs we need to worry about?”
I tap my still-sore shoulder because, yes, just checking, but it’s still very painful to the touch. “Just biting children!” I quipped, and I laughed. Yep, I laughed. Because God is staying my hand, holding my tears, and stopping time for me. Because He cares about my silly problems and wants to make me more like Him.