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He stands and clamps his hands tightly over his ears in the darkened theater. His seat at the end of the row of all of his friends is too far away from me to reach quickly.

“I don’t like it,” he yells. “Get me out of here.”

It’s not the scary part of the movie. The theater is quiet.  It’s intense emotion that gets Garrett every time.  The uncomfortable moments, any embarrassment or misunderstanding, send the child scrambling for cover. In this case, a baby penguin’s anger and frustration with his father.  I squeeze down the row, tripping over feet and handbags and crunching popcorn into the cement floor, stifling my giggles, not at him, but at his over the top reaction and the ridiculous disturbance I’m making trying to reach him.

“Garrett it’s okay.”  I am finally behind him.

“Nah-ah, I DO NOT LIKE IT.”

“I’ll sit with you. It will be over in a minute.  Remember? These situations resolve, that means that they end when everyone understands the feelings.”

He is so like me.  Sensitive and in tune to the  emotional discomfort of others, but awkward and unwieldy in his response, unable to avoid making the moment more difficult with his reaction.  The empathy is there and it just keeps propelling us into the fray over and over, our feet in our mouths, our heads spinning.


“Quinn?”  I stop him at the bathroom door. “Did you wipe and wash your hands?”  It has come to my attention via the tattle system that Quinn does not always avail himself of all required clean up options.


“Quinn, you have to wipe, it’s not okay.”

He cocks his head to the side and regards me with studied nonchalance.  “Sometimes,” he proffers, “I take shortcuts.”

I don’t know if you can define “cool” but as a Supreme Court justice once famously said about another four letter word, I know it when I see it.  I think it can be found somewhere in Quinn’s casual confidence and easiness with the world.  He always has an answer and it never occurs to him that others won’t accept it.  They usually do.  I often do.  I bite my lip now to keep from laughing.  Garrett would squirm to be interrogated on such a personal topic; Saige would cry, believing herself in trouble.  Quinn turns it around immediately. He assumes everyone is on his side.

“I like shortcuts.  I’m a shortcut expert.”

You’re a bullshit expert, my little son, but you are good, I will give you that.  How far will it get you, I wonder?  Cool is attractive, but it can be very shallow.


The metal walls of the car press in on me and the scarf around my neck pulls too tight. I’m sitting on the end, but I can’t get it free.  She wails on repeat at the top of her lungs, “It’s not fair!  It’s not fair!  It’s not faiiiiirrrrrr!”  Still in the parking lot, I maneuver the van to the curb, throw it in park and turn around.

“Eyes. I want eyes.”  She meets my gaze, furiously defiant.  “We talked about this last night and on the way to the movies.  You and Quinn lost your treats.  You had popcorn. We will have lunch when we get home, but  you are not having that chocolate bar. It is your choice, but screaming at me in the car is not allowed and if you continue to do it you will owe me each minute that I endure the noise in your room when we get home and only silent time in your room will count.”

I have covered it all, but I know it won’t work.  It is a pattern we can not break. In these encounters, she flings herself wildly off of the cliff of  injustice and rage.  There is no parachute. She can not – or will not – bring it back.  We hit terminal velocity and then the ground almost every time.

Half way home, vibrating internally with fury at the shrieking temper tantrum, I ask Quinn, more in honest curiousity than to make a point to Saige, “Why aren’t you crying about your treat?  Aren’t you sad?”

“Aw, yeah, I’m sad.”  He states it in his matter-of-fact, Andy Griffith way with his lisp and his hands in his coat pockets.  “But, I don’t want to go to my room, I want to go hiking with Daddy.”

“Well. That’s … smart.”  I respond over the increased volume of Saige’s outraged screams.  Her anger is more important to her than any reason or consequence or rationality.  It burns too hot to quell.

She stops screaming as we turn into the driveway in an attempt to avoid forty minutes in her room, but it’s far too late.  Unsurprisingly, there is another member of the family whose anger and resentment burns brightly, if more quietly, and whose sense of injustice is finely honed and she WILL have her forty minutes of silence.  The source of some things becomes, perhaps, a bit more clear.

“Garrett, it’s your turn to unbuckle the baby for me please.”

“Awwwww. Why do I have to do it? I don’t want to. I can’t get it; it hurts my hand. Why do I always have to do it?”

“You don’t, we take turns.”

“I’ll do it!” Says Miss Suddenly Peaches and Light.  “Nater Skater, should I do your buckle? Do you want to get down?  Ready? JUMP!”

“No, it’s …”  I trail off frustrated.  We have never failed to take turns. I ask the boys to help me just as often as I ask Saige. I think the nurture is the same and yet she showers loving mothering on his head while Garrett and Quinn ignore him or torture him in equal parts.

I sit at the fulcrum of an unsteady teeter-totter. Her kindness balanced against her red hot rage. Sensitivity balanced against reactivity and stubbornness.  Unstudied people-skills balanced against callousness. I take a breath, slow and steady. In and out.  Realizing it again for the first and thousandth time.

They are mine to raise and mine to love and mine to teach.  I can tell them and I can guide them.  I can show them.  I can try not to yell at them (and fail). I can ask them. I can even beg them.  But, my god, as they grow I see more and more that they are who they are.  Beautiful and terrible. And they are not mine to change.

44 Responses to Innate
  1. Issa
    January 31, 2012 | 6:28 pm

    We all have so many sides to our personality. Some mature and grow over time. Others don’t. Your kids are still young and they seem pretty great to me. What you said is true. All we can do is guide them. I’m pretty convinced they come in with their personality pretty set.

    Anyway…great post my friend.

  2. Anne
    January 31, 2012 | 6:36 pm

    Wow. I really needed to read that today.

  3. Kristin in Mobile
    January 31, 2012 | 6:39 pm

    Just. Beautiful.

    I love how you just move me to instant tears sometimes……the way you capture the snippets of parenthood never cease to amaze me – thank you!!

  4. Amanda
    January 31, 2012 | 6:46 pm

    We take credit when their good we blame ourselves when their bad but really all we can do is guide who they already are…

  5. Robyn
    January 31, 2012 | 6:51 pm

    This was too good for me not to comment. I just love this. Everything about it.

  6. Kirsten
    January 31, 2012 | 6:56 pm

    Yep. The more mine grow. The more life evolves. The more I realize they all need to be handled in the way that’s right for them…despite what I think is the right way. Listening to their personalities…thinking, pondering, considering their point of view in any given situation. They are little versions of who they will be as adults. We can give them insight and guidance, but ultimately the choices are theirs to make and deal with consequences good and bad.

  7. sandra
    January 31, 2012 | 7:00 pm

    Every parent should read this post and then carry this quote with them. “But, my god, as they grow I see more and more that they are who they are. Beautiful and terrible. And they are not mine to change.”. Half prayer half reminder of our role, our gift to raise our precious little ones.

  8. Gayle
    January 31, 2012 | 7:16 pm

    You hit the nail on the head…. we can love and guide, but we cannot change who they are (no matter how badly we may want to!:) I have some similiar kids… cool grew up into trouble. The wailer is still growing…. The sensitive one isn’t anymore. The mouthy one is mellowing her tongue as she ages and realizes more truths about her life. And the little guy seems to be a combination of all of them with a hug that can turn into a punch in no time at all. LOL

  9. jwoap (Marna)
    January 31, 2012 | 7:32 pm

    “Beautiful and terrible. And they are not mine to change.”

    Yes indeed — :)

  10. Tami
    January 31, 2012 | 9:44 pm

    The essence of raising little people is that we can teach and guide and love but who they are is not for us to change unless we wish to break them. But oh how frustrating that fact can be sometimes. Sounds like Saige’s temper is the kind that burns hot and explosive but leaves nothing behind once it’s burned itself out.

  11. Tricia(irishsamom)
    January 31, 2012 | 10:29 pm

    Beautiful! You summed up my own daughter with your amazing words. As well as this. amazing sometimes (most times )overwhelming job of parenting these unique little beings.

  12. anna see
    January 31, 2012 | 10:39 pm

    oh my goodness, stacey. i get this. i really get this. but we still try try try to change them, don’t we? xo

  13. Lauren Vo
    January 31, 2012 | 11:12 pm

    I needed this today :)

  14. But Why Mommy
    February 1, 2012 | 12:04 am

    Wow. Just what I needed to read. With Lion’s ever changing moods and physical reactions I want to control and change but I can’t. We can’t fight, we have to learn to co-exist.

  15. Michele Follger
    February 1, 2012 | 12:35 am

    This reminds me of Kristina’s six week visit to the pediatrician. She was enraged by the whole exam, not hurt just mad and she was screaming (not crying) at the doctor. He took her from me and chuckled and said, “boy you have your hands full, she is a strong willed little thing.” We have joked many times through the years that being strong-willed will serve her well as an adult – if she lives that long! Well today I proudly received a call from a nurse that Kristina, in her final semester of nursing school, worked with at the hospital. She said that it is always a challenge to have students, but that Kristina was the most confident go getter she has had and that her confidence and “strong will” will make her an excellent nurse. Sometimes it was hard to remember that that trait was a blessing and not a curse.

  16. Hanna
    February 1, 2012 | 12:36 am

    Thank you for that post!

  17. suburbancorrespondent
    February 1, 2012 | 12:53 am

    Ain’t that the truth!

  18. Candice@NotesFromABroad
    February 1, 2012 | 2:48 am

    There was a little girl in my life like that , a long time ago. All about good times. Bright as the sun, loved nothing more than good times, dramatic as all get out and the most difficult child in the world to manage ..
    I wish you all the luck in the world, but I learned from my/our experience, you can only lead them and show them, what they do with it is out of your hands.

  19. Joanna
    February 1, 2012 | 3:43 am

    Sometimes forcing myself to believe just that, “…they are who they are. Beautiful and terrible. And they are not mine to change”, is the only thing that takes away the guilt I feel over my kids’ not so good behaviors and not so pleasant personality traits. I also know that I cannot take credit for those that are so endearing.

  20. Ggirl
    February 1, 2012 | 7:30 am

    This is such a great post! I see such huge changes in baby Leo it’s staggering….he’s like both of us and neither of us and I wouldn’t change that part of him for the world. XxX

  21. Galit Breen
    February 1, 2012 | 12:26 pm

    Oh, I am so glad that you opened these comments because-

    Because I get this- their coolness and rage and teeters mirror my own.

    {Your writing gets me every time. *Every* time.}


  22. Mel
    February 1, 2012 | 12:39 pm

    I am a big fan of Jason Mraz. In a song called “God moves through you” he states about children, “you can give them your love but not your thougths, for they’ll arrive with their own hearts.” SO TRUE.
    And, just from my experience, girls have that ability to push emotional buttons like crazy!

  23. Annie
    February 1, 2012 | 3:49 pm

    Wow. Love the last paragraph. The experiences leading up to it put it into perspective for me. So well written. This is my favorite post of yours.

  24. Louise
    February 1, 2012 | 5:36 pm

    Big fan of the last paragraph over here too – those wise words were shared with me by my mother-in-law when I was at my wit’s end with my colicky, sensitive baby and had launched into a mini-rant about the things I must be doing wrong. Thank you for sharing!

  25. Poppy
    February 1, 2012 | 7:32 pm

    You have a sensitive one! I was like that when I was younger and turned out okay. I bet if you look into it there will be some research somewhere that will reveal some personality traites that this kind of emotion in a child will link to in an adult

  26. Deanna
    February 1, 2012 | 7:38 pm

    Thank you so much for this. Beautiful, as always. Touching, heartbreaking, real. So incredibly all of those things. I so love how you defined resolve.

  27. Emily Nelson
    February 2, 2012 | 3:25 am

    That was beautiful. I have laughed and cried over many of your past posts, but this one hit an emotional chord for me. Simply beautiful. You see each of your children for who they really are. And you take the them to get to know them as individual, little people. Your insight gives me the courage to get to know my “spirited” son better and in ways more than just being his (zoo)keeper. You are wise beyond your years! Thank you for sharing your wisdom with the world.

  28. Marinka
    February 2, 2012 | 5:01 pm

    They really aren’t ours to change. But we can still make strong suggestions, right?!

    One of the (many) pleasures of parenthood for me has been to see how one child’s stubbornness, disobedience, driving me craziness turns their sibling into an angel. Nicely played, kids.

  29. Claire
    February 2, 2012 | 5:52 pm

    I’ve been thinking about this post ever since I read it the day you put it up. It is amazing. These word snapshots of your kids. Simply AMAZING!

    “It’s intense emotion that gets Garrett every time…….Sensitive and in tune to the emotional discomfort of others, but awkward and unwieldy in his response, unable to avoid making the moment more difficult with his reaction.”

    That was the description that hit me the hardest — because I think it 100% would describe me as a kid (well and today as an adult). Somehow it made me feel better about my intense week to know that others react to the world this way. He’s lucky to have you, they are all, to see them for who they are and help them with how that resonates and clashes with the world around them!

  30. MichelleS
    February 2, 2012 | 7:19 pm

    Awesome. And true!

  31. Kate Coveny Hood
    February 3, 2012 | 12:00 am

    Loved this! I find that I’m much more understanding when I recognize my own (often bad) behaviors in my children. Not just because I know where they get it…but also because I understand it. Oliver throws a fit about not wanting to go to a birthday party and Chris has to call me in AZ where I’ve traveled to attend an evening baby shower/cocktail party. We do all of this talking and strategizing about how to make Oliver stay and enjoy the party – and we then feel a little disappointed and defeated when we finally agree that it’s best to just take him home. Then I hang up the phone, start getting ready for my own party, look in the mirror and think, “I really don’t feel like going to this…”

    And no – no one can change who I am either.

  32. ImBeingHeldHostage
    February 3, 2012 | 9:06 am

    Wow, I just had an epiphany spurred on by your son’s reaction to the movie. I loved the way you handled the situation. I wish I had been such a clear thinker when my overly sensitive one was a little younger.
    You are SO going to have your hands full when they become a house full of teenagers– hope you’re still blogging then :-)

  33. Ann
    February 3, 2012 | 6:21 pm

    They aren’t mine to change.

    Thank you for this reminder.

    Such an insightful post.

  34. Kristina
    February 3, 2012 | 10:39 pm

    Well said, as always. This reminds of a Sweet Honey on the Rock song, “On Children.” My favorite line:

    Your children are not your children
    They are the sons and the daughters of life’s longing for itself
    They come through you but they are not from you
    And though they are with you they belong not to you

  35. lt
    February 4, 2012 | 3:00 am

    Ohh, my heart rolls over in my chest for Saige. I was her. The injustice of it all, no one could understand, the outrage, the only thing I could do was bemoan the unfairness and do so LOUDLY. My parents would send me to the farthest reaches of our house and shut every door but I made sure I was heard! (and here I am decades later a lawyer–maybe there is some symmetry to it all)
    Wonderful writing!!

  36. Jennifer
    February 4, 2012 | 4:43 am

    Yes, this is so true. They are ours, and they are not. What is a mother to do? Write a beautiful post about it, I suppose… <3

  37. Jessica@Team Rasler
    February 4, 2012 | 5:53 am

    Two years ago, after several parent-teacher conferences in a row in which parents just wanted their kids to be different than who they really were – desperately wishing for the carefree spirit to be more organized and for the serious thinker to be more laid-back – I promised myself that I would let my kids be themselves. Sure, they need balance and perspective and some life skills, but I need to accept who they are. Two years later? I still have to remind myself of everything you wrote in your last paragraph. Every single day.

  38. Emily
    February 5, 2012 | 10:14 am

    Oh! This was such a powerful post! I love your conclusions, too: children are beautiful and terrible, ours to teach and ours to guide, but not ours to change.


  39. Rebecca @ Unexplained X2
    February 5, 2012 | 11:20 am

    So true…they are who they are and with our guidance (and possible yelling), they’ll be who they want to be. Love this post.

  40. What a big guy! | Sunrise Rants
    February 6, 2012 | 6:25 pm

    […] is in many ways similar and many ways completely different from his brother. Reminds me of a lovely post another mother wrote about her kids. Rome is just like me, making him easy to parent, but Gael I get to enjoy getting to […]

  41. Michelle
    February 8, 2012 | 3:27 am

    Oh, Stacey. I so feel for you. The tantrums like that where the rationality is SO far gone … they’re so hard, on everyone. It’s amazing how differently each child reacts to the same stimuli. I do hope you find someday – soon – what works for her that helps her understand her rage and deal with what she most definitely sees as unfair consequences. It’s not easy, but … you’re doing the right thing!

  42. steph
    February 8, 2012 | 6:36 am

    omigoodness. i remember my MIL telling me before I had children that you would cry if you knew how little you could change your children (or something close to that). I didn’t get it then but now i do.

  43. Lady Jennie
    February 10, 2012 | 4:13 pm

    Wow – beautiful insight into the lives of mom and children. Such a banal way to put it, but still.

    I wish I were as cool as Quinn. Although I would still wipe.

  44. Maggie May Ethridge
    February 13, 2012 | 8:56 am

    I really, really, really, REALLY wish we lived like, next door to each other.


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