My 2-year-old daughter has a somewhat infuriating affinity for shoes. Try as I might to blame this peculiar trait on my husband (aren’t spouses always the source of the traits we dislike in our children?), my daughter’s love of shoes can only come from one person—me. Even though the size of my waistline has expanded with the years and the 2 daughters I have birthed, my shoe size has been a blessed constant, and therefore few things bring me greater joy than shopping for shoes. So when my daughter started to spend ample amounts of time putting on and taking off her various shoes, at first I thought it was adorable. “She’s starting early with her shoe fetish,” I thought with pride and amusement, watching her fiddle with zippers and delight over velcro and fringe.
Unfortunately, as her affection for shoes grew, so too did her disdain for following my instructions. “Ava, we need to get ready to leave. It’s time to put on some shoes and leave them on,” I would say. She would respond with a howl of despair and throw herself prostrate onto the ground, kicking off one shoe and then brandishing a different one with a triumphant grin. I would grit my teeth, try to patiently put on her shoes, and then say in my best stern mommy voice, “No, Ava, we have to go! Don’t take off your shoes again.” I foolishly hoped for half a second that she would obey my command, but Ava instead would yank off a shoe and proceed to peel off a sock for good measure. This is about the point when I could almost feel my blood pressure rising, and I confess that I have never wanted to swear as much as I have during these daily confrontations-turned-ritual. This is also about the point when Daddy would intervene and firmly put her shoes on and carry her out the door while she screamed in protest.
I wish I could say these shoe standoffs happened only in the confines of our house, but there have been times in public where Ava has decided to sit down in the middle of a store aisle and take off her shoes. I also wish I could say I have handled these times with grace and maturity, but such responses don’t often become stories we share about ourselves on the Internet, do they? One such occasion found me angrily and impatiently swooping her up into my arms while gathering the one shoe she’d managed to get off, and then finishing my grocery trip with a scowl on my face and heat creeping up my neck while I thought impure thoughts in my head. I was more than relieved to make it back to the safety of our home, where she and I could both cry in private.
That night, after my husband bathed our daughter, I heard her familiar refrain: “Mommy put to bed.” Honestly the only person I wanted to put to bed was myself, but I sighed dramatically and got up and took my freshly-bathed toddler into my arms. Oblivious to my inner temper tantrum, she snuggled up close and nestled her head into my neck in that familiar way of hers, and my frozen heart began to thaw. As we settled into the rocking chair in her room, she whispered her request for me to sing “Jesus Loves Me.” I obliged, and as I sang, I was reminded anew of how Jesus loves ME, this mama with the short temper to match her child’s, this mama who was brimming over with impatience and self-pity. How many times have I come to God with my own agenda, my own plans, and my own willful disobedience? And how many times has He met me with forgiveness and patience and steadfast love? I offered a silent prayer of thanks–thanks for this child of mine who was giving me daily lessons in humility, and thanks for the Father whose perfect love helps me love better. Tenderness for my daughter replaced the anger I had earlier felt, and I stroked her back and hair with gentleness, wanting to hold on to this holy moment a minute longer. I may have tripped on a shoe on my way out of her room, but still I walked with a steadier gait, knowing that one day I would miss the little shoes cluttering up her room and miss even more the little feet that wore them.