Batteries would run out on my robotsBy ELIZABETH QUINN,
“I think we have to let go of the idea that there’s such a thing as good parenting. There’s messy parenting that comes from a heart that is full and an intent to figure out how to be the best parent we can be.”
Author and speaker, Suzanne Stabile said this on her podcast, The Enneagram Journey, and I’m considering it for my first tattoo. It might be a bit verbose for ink on skin, but nobody has ever accused me of being short on words - and there’s plenty of real estate on which to fit it.
I probably love it so much because I’m messy. I looked up the actual definition of messy and found, “untidy or dirty, confused and difficult to deal with.” It was like being seen for the first time.
My house is messy; we have piles and stacks of things ‘to be dealt with’ that aren’t. My kids used to wear matching clothes and wear hair bows, but now they really only match in their school uniforms and hastily brushed together ponytails. My car looks like a band just returned from taking it on tour and possibly slept in it. My patio looks like a storm just blew through and deposited 36 inches of ride-on toys, half-inflated balls, discarded snack bowls, and lost socks. My planner - which I color code and pretend makes me feel organized, and is full of birthday parties, team practices, committee meetings, and a myriad of messy carpool conflicts. My parenting style is a messy mash-up of gentle, positive discipline and 1980s parent tactics (like locking them outside), punctuated by occasional outbursts of yelling, ‘ONE... TWO... you don’t want me to say three, child!’ I’m surprised my children haven’t sprained something as a result of parenting style whiplash.
Even my faith is messy, While I would like to blame that on the Bible, it’s probably because I am a messy, imperfect human. Maybe one day an archaeologist will uncover the Lost Scrolls of Step-by-Step Instructions on All the Things by Jesus, but until then, it seems we’re left with a beautiful mess of varied voices in the form of a 66 book Bible to read with imperfect human eyes and then argue about.
Sometimes I’m jealous of cult members. It might be really nice to stop questioning and wondering, trying and failing, and just do what one person tells us to do, blindly. I find myself wanting that from my kids far too often. But the thing is - I don’t want robot children either. I don’t want to run a Cult of Mom where nobody is allowed to think for themselves, or how will they ever find their briefcase on their own to go to work as adults?
My daughter asked for something to drink the other day; it’s unnerving how often these little humans expect me to feed and water them. Since I was trying to plate food for six humans while fending off a blind but hungry dog, I suggested she walk on her 10-year-old legs to the cabinet and handle her own hydration needs. When I saw her standing on the counter, I said, ‘Well don’t walk on the counter in your nasty shoes.’ A robot child would have said, ‘Yes ma’am’ and gotten down and hopefully used a stool next time. But I don’t have robot children - I have messy smart alecks who dare to push back against the Cult of Mom and this one said, “Well, why are the glass glasses we can’t use on the bottom shelf - which I can reach without a stool - but the plastic cups you make us use are on the second shelf where I can’t get to them without climbing on the counter?”
She was still standing on the counter in her nasty shoes and her smart aleck hand was on her sassy hip which, along with one familiar eyebrow, was cocked at a decidedly un-robotic angle. I’ll be damned. Why are the kid-cups out of kid-reach? And why didn’t I think of this?
I would love a step-by-step guide to life written by Jesus, and I know many people feel that the Bible is just that. On its face, I can see that logic but among the pages are too many voices saying too many different things for me to consider it an instruction manual. I mean, I’m all on board for following rules like ‘don’t eat owls’ but I love a linen/wool blend.
We Christians find ways to disagree on a lot of things, but I think we can agree that there’s enough weird stuff in our Bible to prove it wasn’t meant to be a ‘How To’ manual from start to finish. The closest it gets to that is when Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, and even then he didn’t answer the question correctly because he gave two answers, kind of like a smart aleck might. He said to love the Lord with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. It’s a great answer, and it’s a great guide - a clear lens to filter our choices through, but we still have to do the filtering. Which makes me think that Jesus didn’t want robot followers either. He left us with a guide and more than enough room to use the brains God gave us to see that plastic cups don’t belong out of reach of the kids they’re there for.
Robot children sound nice in theory, but I’m pretty sure I’d want to let their batteries run out eventually. Smart alecks that cock their eyebrows at me while dropping kitchen organization wisdom on my head are way more interesting. And way more likely to be able to function without me one day, nasty shoes on the counter and all.
P.S. Happy Birthday to my Mama, Ann Calhoon, whose messy closet during my childhood was a magical world where little girls became royalty and shoulder pads our knightly armor. Her closet is very organized these days, but her ability to make messy magic with her grandchildren is solidly intact.
Elizabeth Quinn makes her home in Northeast Jackson with her husband Percy and four children.