I am standing in the kitchen. There is cake batter all over the walls. It is dripping down in slimy clumps and landing with audible splats on the tiled floor. My son is bouncing up and down yelling, “Stir! Stir! Stir!” at the top of his lungs while waving a spoon in the general direction of the bowl. The batter is flying off the spoon and onto the wall. Which is how it came to be dripping onto my kitchen floor. I look at my son, his face aglow with happiness, his whole body involved in the process of “stirring” the cake batter and I look at my walls, newly adorned with the vanilla mixture and all I can think is this:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
The serenity prayer. Turns out it’s not just for alcoholics. It’s for mommies too. In fact, it’s the thing that keeps me sane in moments like this. And there are so many moments like this. Because, here we are. The cake batter is on the wall.
Maybe I could have made different decisions that might not have led to cake batter on the walls. But I can’t go back in time (nor would I, he’s having so much fun!). So, that’s where the batter is. Nothing I can do about that. Gotta accept it.
So, what can I change? Well, my attitude for one thing. See, before I remembered to pray, I was thinking, what have I done? How did I let this happen? Oh my God, oh my God, this is a disaster! But it only takes one tiny attitude adjustment to think Look at that happy little boy! He’s having the time of his life! He doesn’t mean to make a mess, he’s only 15 months old. They’re just walls. We can clean them. (Did I say “tiny”? I meant huge. It only takes one huge, nearly impossible attitude adjustment to say that. So, yeah.)
But it’s the last part, the wisdom to know the difference part, that holds the key to everything. That is where the true power of this prayer lies and that, believe it or not, is the hardest part to achieve.
Because, here’s the thing, we’re making the cake. I could choose not to bake with my son. I do have control over that. But I’ve decided that it’ll be fun. He’ll enjoy it. We’ll get to eat cake. We’re bored and in need of something to do. Any number of reasons. So, inside the situation of mommy-and-baby-making-cake there actually isn’t an outcome in which we don’t make a mess. And that is hard to accept.
If I don’t accept that the mess is inevitable, I’ll spend the entire time saying things like, “Here’s a spoon to stir the . . . no, no no!” and grabbing the spoon out of his hand. Or, “Let’s crack the eggs. Here you can . . . no! Not like that!” and doing it myself. And I’ll get more and more frustrated. Why? Because I mistook the mess for something I could change.
It’s true in all kinds of situations. The baby won’t sleep. The baby won’t eat. She’s throwing a temper tantrum. He won’t shake hands with your husband’s boss. She just took off all her clothes in the middle of the street. He stole a ball from the kid next door and licked it. She cut her own hair with the kitchen scissors while you were stirring the tomato sauce. All kinds of things.
You think you have control over all this. You think if you just figure out the right combination of things to do or say, or punishments to dole out or rewards to give, that you will make your child do what you want him to do. And it might work. Sometimes. And not others. Because as much as you are teaching and shaping and molding your child, he’s still another person. A tiny, not very rational, person who is apt to behave in ways that confuse and frustrate you.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you should just throw up your hands and let your kids run wild. But, if they have run wild (and they will from time to time, no matter how conscientious you are), there’s nothing you can do to have made it not happen. In that moment, you’re dealing with something that has already occurred. Panicking, or yelling, or crying or tearing your hair out isn’t going to undo it. It’s something you can’t change.
So God, grant me the serenity to accept that sometimes my son is not going to sleep. Sometimes he’s not going to eat what I make for him (no matter how hard I worked on it). Sometimes he’s going to melt down and refuse to do what I ask and be all kinds of socially inappropriate. I can’t change that.
And God, grant me the courage to realize that what I can change is actually me. I can work to not be mad at him for not sleeping (even though I’m so freaking tired), and think about whether it’s time to give sleep training a try. I can work to remember that he doesn’t know how hard I worked on his meal and to realize that maybe something I can just throw in the microwave would be a better choice next time. I can work to remember that being a toddler is hard and confusing and scary or, if that fails, I can work to find the humor in the situation. I can change me. Only me. Ever.
So please, God, please: the wisdom to know the difference.