Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Mercy Seat

Hello, good morning, how you do?
What makes your rising sun so new?
I could use a fresh beginning too
All of my regrets are nothing new

- "Learning to Breathe," Switchfoot

I sat in our bedroom on the radiator that abuts the wall just below the windows; what I also call the "pity party seat."

I call it that because if the radiator is not blazing hot, it's a great cozy place to sit and look out at the two big maple trees just outside it; and whenever I do I for some reason envision a scene in a movie -- you know, the part where the woman is looking pensively out the window while a stray tear rolls down her cheek?

So I was in the pity party seat, and I was having a pity party as I looked out at endless piles of dirt-encrusted snow. Is there anything worse than February in New England? Some people may say March, but March has the hope of Daylight Savings Time and for me, Red Sox baseball. February is stale and cold. The roads are pock-marked with potholes. You've baked enough cookies; wiped up enough trails of snow and mud tracked through the house; bundled yourself up one too many times to protect from icy blasts. Winter needs to be done, and quickly.

I glared out at February. The house was thankfully momentarily silent. Anna had come home from school and proceeded to explode so forcefully about something I wondered if we had somehow just propelled ourselves into the teenage phase several years early. The little one had fussed on and off and off and on.

And Ethan, oh Ethan. Ethan had been home sick from school after being home for a week of vacation and two snow days before that. I'd kept him home because I thought he was sick after a truly unfortunate incident in the night that involved many bodily fluids and him not making it to the bathroom on time. Oh, it wasn't pretty, and I was still thinking about it.

It wasn't pretty, and hours later I was sitting and thinking and trying to bat away the guilt the way you blink really hard when you're trying not to cry.

You see, the night before had been going so well. Little Miss Chloe had actually almost given me four hours of consecutive sleep. I was about to put her back down and crawl back under the blessed covers, but I went to check on Ethan. And I found him in there in his mess, disoriented. And then there was a bed to strip down, and he had to be thrown in the bath. There were walls and the floor to clean.

There was all of this ugliness in the midst of my own exhaustion, and uglier still was my reaction. I wasn't just angry. I was FURIOUS. And I knew why I was furious...beyond the fact that I was dog tired and this was all disgusting and I didn't want to deal with it. I was furious because at first I didn't know -- I couldn't tell, and sometimes it's hard for Ethan to articulate. I thought he had done this all on purpose.

Here's the thing, here's yet another thing I tend to be touchy about. Bathroom incidents. When you grew up with a brother who tended to do unspeakable things on his bed, the walls, the floors, toys, you name it, this type of thing can strike a nerve and bring back all kinds of memories. Add to the fact that Ethan had awhile back gotten into a horrible "let's pee on my train table and make mom mad" phase, and that he'd gone to bed angry at us for having to go to bed earlier, and you could see where I might be coming from.

And so when I found Ethan in a big mess in his room, and all he could tell me was that it was too dark and he hadn't wanted to go into the bathroom, and I looked and saw handprints on the walls, I started to yell. I cleaned and cleaned him and yelled more. And it was only as time went by and I calmed down and he was able to speak a little more clearly, that little by little I began to realize that apparently he wasn't feeling well, and he just hadn't made it to the bathroom on time.

Thankfully, children are forgiving. Before we'd tucked him back in last night I'd told him it wasn't his fault and that I loved him. I tried to redeem myself. But now hours later, I sat and looked and thought about how many times I'd failed since then. How many more times I'd yelled. How my reserve tank of energy seemed so low that I couldn't seem to muster much semblance of self-control, even as I chided my daughter for not having any.

Now I sat there as the sun thankfully began setting on what had been a truly miserable day and wondered if it was bad to wish I were somewhere else...on a beach...on a stage...on a couch with a cup of tea and piles of books and hours and hours to read them.

Yet even if my daydreams became reality, I wouldn't be able to escape myself. I couldn't escape the scared look Ethan had given me. I hated the way I had judged my child out of my own past; out of his. I hated the fact that there were many times I blamed the autism before seeing the person.

I hated feeling like I couldn't cope.

So I sat with that for awhile, on the pity party seat. Then I chose mercy. As the moments ticked by, slowly I remembered, I attempted, to be gentle. With me.

I thanked God that He did not parent me only based on the past and on my many present failures.

I looked out at the snow and remembered that spring always comes. The most beautiful springs follow the worst winters. It's one of the things I love about living in New England. It's like C.S. Lewis referenced in one of the Narnia books, when he talks about that deliciously wonderful feeling of waking up and realizing a bad dream was just that, a dream, and that the feeling of awakening is so beautiful it's almost worth having the nightmare, just to experience the waking.

I exhaled the truth of all of my mistakes...and breathed in the grace to keep stumbling forward.

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