It all starts innocently enough. “Mommy, come play ‘doll family’ with me!”
“Ok sweetie, I’d love to!” Which is a lie. I am so enjoying that she is playing by herself but alas, I did bring her in to the world and the very least I can do is put down my other work for a few minutes and play dolls with her. “How do we play?”
“Ok so mom, you’re the baby,” she directs as she hands me a small and exceptionally dirty baby doll. “I’m the mommy. And Belle is the babysitter and Doc McStuffins is, well she is the doctor. We are going to the doctor because the baby is sick. YOU are sick mom!” she says with firm belief in her own statement written across her expression.
And naively thinking I’ve got the scenario down, I enthusiastically join her world. “Ok, Harper, I got it!” And in my best doll voice, “Hi doctor. I’m not feeling well. I think I need a check-up!”
“No, no, mom! You cannot talk because you are the baby.”
“Oh, ok. Well do you want to tell the doctor that I’m sick?”
“No, no mom! You are actually the babysitter and since I’m the mommy I should take care of the baby.”
“That’s fine. Can I have the Belle doll?” She hands it to me. “Hi baby. I’m the babysitter and I heard you aren’t feeling well! Do you need to see the doctor?”
“No, no mom! You just pretend to be the babysitter!”
“Harper, that is exactly what I am doing, isn’t it?”
“No, no mom! The babysitter isn’t here yet, and I’m the mommy so I am taking care of the baby.”
“Ok, well do you want me to be the doctor then?”
“No, no mom! You just wait and don’t talk.”
(Insert wide eyes emoji)
“Harper, let’s play a different game.”
“No, no mom! I want to play ‘doll family’ with you!”
“But honey I don’t understand how you want me to play and I can’t seem to play right.”
“Well just listen to me. Since I’m the mommy, you should be obedient.”
It is almost comical when we think about these moments: the ones in which it is painfully obvious our children are wonderful observers but terrible interpreters, like when your four-year-old sees the imaginary role reversal you willingly stepped into and takes full advantage of telling you that you should be obedient. I want to revel in the moment and try to find victory in the fact that she understands that obedience does in fact entail some type of submission; but with the context all wrong I am feeling more like someone who was just played for a fool than the wise mother whose thoughtful instruction has taken root.
Motherhood is funny like that, isn’t it? We’ve got it, and then we don’t got it. Five minutes apart sometimes. But that is a piece of what is so great about being a mom: we never stop growing because they never stop growing, and they outsmart us sometimes—no, often— before we are even ready for it.
(And if we need that reminder, two minutes of trying to enter the four-year-old world that your daughter runs in her mind will certainly do the trick.)
But it is also moments like this when I feel so thankful that we never stop growing, that there is hope for both of us to keep learning and to keep trying out the steps to this dance of raising children—particularly a smart and exceptionally strong-willed little girl who would have no problem taking the lead in this dance anytime. There is her way, and there is my way; and while I am confident my role as her mama is to teach her what true obedience means and should look like, I am equally confident that my heart needs just as many lessons.
So this is where I take a step back and reorient myself: there is her way and there is my way, but there is also His way, God’s way. Her way wants to direct every moment of the ‘doll family’ game, my way wants a little girl that respects her mom and makes me look good in front of others, His way just wants two humble hearts that are willing to learn what it means to love selflessly. The day to day, ins and outs of being a mom and knowing how to steward the hearts of our little ones is complicated, but the aim is actually very clear.
Maybe it is just me, but playing dolls with a four-year-old has this uncanny way of making me feel small. But you know, the longer I am a mom the more I think smaller is the proper growth pattern of motherhood.
Less of me, more of Him.
Photo by Emily Gnetz.