He Smiled First

You might look on at our family and think we have it made. Three handsome sons and three pretty daughters, a decent business and a modest home, a dad who loves to take his family out for dinner and a mom who grows green beans and flowers.

Twenty years ago Dan and I entered holy matrimony, buoyed by love, sights soaring as high as the Rockies.

We both came from strong families; strong but flawed.

Since we loved God and each other and were moderately intelligent, we hoped we’d have a family a cut above the mediocre ones in which we’d grown up. Not that our parents didn’t fit that same criteria.  But nowadays there was good literature out there about how not to be passive dads and controlling moms, about avoiding iron-grip discipline and over-protectiveness, about giving more time to our children and teaching them the reasons instead of just saying no.  We’d both been teachers and we both loved children. Surely if we followed the Ezzo’s Raising Kids God’s Way formula and practiced healthy communication and read good stories and taught them to pray, things would turn out well.

I don’t think we were more naive than most 22-year old-Mennonite couples. We were happy and hopeful and maybe a little unlearned. But it didn’t matter.

Our six brown-eyed bundles of joy came pretty quickly, some of them planned and others surprises.  We cried with intense feeling at their births, worked our hearts out for their first smiles, smacked their bottoms when they threw fits, and read lots of Beatrix Potter and Dr. Seuss.

There were a lot of other moments too, hard ones and happy ones, funny ones and terrible ones.

Then all of a sudden the boys turn about nine and they don’t smile at us anymore.

Andre is our youngest boy and he’s tall and sturdy for his age. He has a wide face and a big smile. He has a slower, easier nature than some of his intense siblings and he gives us big hugs when he tells us goodbye, even in front of his peers.  He’s my baby boy and I’ve probably enjoyed him more than I did the others, knowing that soon he won’t make popsicle stick plane messes and create huge farms on the downstairs carpet, using masking tape to mark fields and roads.

But now he’s nine and after a skirmish with his sisters on the way to church (something to do with who sat where in the suburban and his dad’s reprimand about how he was acting) he got grouchy and sullen. I came into church a few minutes after he did.  He was sitting there with his dad and I smiled at him.  No response.

Oh come on, I groaned inwardly. Not again, not my Andre. I thought maybe we’d bypass this stage with him. He’s always adored me and I’m not ready for this.  I guess we just go wrong somewhere. What do you have to say for yourselves, Mr. Ezzo and Dr. Dobson? 

It actually hurts not to have your smile returned. Especially when it comes from the same little people that you taught how to smile in the first place.

Later on that no-smile Sunday, we had choir practice at church. Alec is our oldest son and at 18 his bass voice is so beautiful that it can make me cry if I let it. We were standing in our choir circle, facing the other parts. Between songs, I looked at Alec, standing tall in his hipster jeans and new, dark-framed glasses.  He smiled at me.

Mom, I think you’re actually pretty nice. I like you and I’m proud to be your son.

Those first months you work your heart out for that baby of yours, pouring, pouring, pouring into them.  You store up their baby smiles and photograph them and frame them.  You go tingly with joy over their first laugh.

If you’re flawed parents like us, you miss things along the way and before you know it, you feel them draw away and it makes your heart ache a little. Or sometimes a lot.

Remember what’s been poured into your life and who poured it in! you want to scream some days.

Then somehow miracles dawn and they reach back out to you. Along the way, they start to say thank you, sometimes more with actions than words.  The smiles you coaxed out of those one-month-olds come back to you.  And they fill you up like you wouldn’t believe.


8 thoughts on “He Smiled First

  1. I really enjoy your stories. I like the depth and humor Good writing.!! It’s funny how we become the dumbest people in the world and when they get older we are the smartest. Love kids.

  2. As a mom of 9 year old and 11 year old sons, I need this hope. 🙂 It’s a hard stage, where the childish adoration has gone away but the maturity of two-way respect has not quite arrived. Thank you, Luci. I need to believe it will be alright.

  3. This gives me fresh courage. Parenting adolescents is putting me on my knees because once more I find I don’t know anything. I will remember and reread this. Thank you!

  4. So so true! I’m loving that stage of getting over the ‘hump’ and smiling at Mom again; it’s worth so much.

  5. Love the authenticity. I’m currently in a state of shaking loose from perfect and being happy with imperfect me and my imperfect children. Imagining other family have all their crap together is a big fat lie. 🙂 Thanks for your honesty.

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