Use the Force and Walk the Line

>> Wednesday, March 12, 2008


You've got a way to keep me on your side
You give me cause for love that I can't hide
For you I know I'd even try to turn the tide
Because you're mine, I walk the line

- Walk the Line, by Johnny Cash

It is morning.

Like throwing holy water on vampires, the sun rises and we are not grateful. It is a work/school day and we do not face a morning of Froot Loops, Clifford, writing, and -- when God is kind -- sleeping in. Instead, we face a morning of alarm clocks, severe tot-itude, and traffic. We are not happy.

It is my job to wrangle the girls into, well, anything but pajamas -- and preferably something weather-appropriate.

This has never been easy. I remember a bad mommy moment I had with Elizabeth. At 3-years of age, Elizabeth suddenly decided she could pick out her own clothes, thank you very much. After pushing my hands away twice, I let her go for it. I mean, how bad could it be? But then she pulled out a bright, fluorescent green t-shirt and a pair of army green pants.

“Uh, honey -- no, no. That won’t work,” I said.

It might help for you to know that I’m no fashion plate, myself. For many years, my favorite work attire was a pair of red cords and a baseball jersey. It wasn’t until recently that I graduated to (very casual) skirts and shoes with straps instead of laces. (Except for this Winter where I reverted back to cords...) But bright spring green matched with army green? I could not let that be.

“No, mommy! I want to wear green!” she insisted.

“But those two kinds of green don’t go together. How about trading those for a nice brown pair of pants. Or here, you could wear this red shirt.”


The two of us played tug-of-war with her clothes like two toddlers, both of us pulling and saying No! and pushing the other’s hands away until finally I had my bad mommy moment. (No, it hadn’t happened yet.)

“Well, fine! Wear what you want!” I said as I got up to leave. “But that looks awful! Just AWFUL!”

To which she smiled happily and said, “OK!” -- relieved to get her away and finally be rid of her controlling mother.

It wasn’t long before I felt like a first class ass. I only felt worse when she emerged in her clashing greens and said enthusiastically, “Look! I’m the grass!

Proving once again that she’s an angel straight from heaven -- and I’m an idiot.

We both went about our day -- me slowly spiraling into a black hole of guilt and Elizabeth happy and oblivious at school. Later, at dinner, I apologized. “Lizzy, I’m sorry I yelled at you this morning about what you wanted to wear.”

Elizabeth dipped a string of spaghetti into a cup of milk.

“Lizzy, I’m trying to talk to you.”

She tilted her head back, held her arm up high and lowered the dangling noodle into her mouth until you could almost imagine it going straight into her stomach.


She wormed through the sauce with her fingers, withdrew another piece, and dunk, into the milk went the noodle.

“Lizzy! I’m trying to say I’m sorry!”

(mouth full) “For what?”

(deep breath) “For yelling at you this morning.”

“Oh. Thanks,” she said, tilting her head back and dangling the spaghetti into her mouth once again.

“I may not always agree with what you wear,” I persisted, “but you did a great job dressing yourself, and I liked that you dressed like the grass.” Then she stopped dunking and hugged me really hard -- probably because she could tell I needed it. Then she told me she loved me -- again, because I needed it. She has a great intuition for hugging and loving.

Of course when she pulled away I was covered in spaghetti sauce. The front of my shirt. My cheek. My sleeves. My hair. She giggled. I shook my head. Lizzy... But I learned an important Mommy Lesson that day. It wasn’t a lesson about giving my daughter room to express herself and become her own person. It wasn’t a lesson about patience or self-control. The lesson was more basic and far more valuable:

Learn to pick your battles!

That Elizabeth’s clothes didn’t match (in my less than knowledgeable opinion) was not a battle worth fighting over. That she eats ice cream with her fingers is gross, but I’m not about to send her to her room without eating. That she draws on her sister with marker after a bath is really, really frustrating, but I’m not going to put her in time out for that.


The problem is, so many of the girls’ antics sit right on the edge of the battle lines. I often find myself staring at them with a confused look on my face wondering, is this worth fighting for? Is that? That question alone delays my reaction time, causing me to falter because most of the time, I just don’t know if it’s worth fighting for.

I wish I could create a master list of all possibilities and think thoughtfully about my perfect response to each situation. But the list would be endless because they keep coming up with new things. They are masterminds of walking the battle line.

And because they’re mine, I also walk the line.

I’m not very fond of the line. It’s a very difficult line -- full of sharp edges and guilt and worry. But perhaps I’m making it too difficult (as is my way in life). Perhaps I should take a lesson from another icon (this time from Star Wars) and “use the force”. When will I know, Obi-wan? When will I know enough is enough? When will I know what is acceptable and what is not? When is something time-out worthy? Please, Obi-wan, tell me.

"Use the force and you’ll know," says Obi-wan.

"Thanks for clearing that up..."

But I suppose it’s not bad advice. If I’m not sure what to do, perhaps I should let it go and only fight for the things I know for sure I want to stop -- fight the battles I have no doubts about.

No, you may not cut your hair!

No, you may not lock the cat in the closet!

No, you may not leave the house in the middle of the night and sell pictures of animals to the neighbors! I mean really, have you gone to Crazy Land?

OK, that was easy. But what about those other times when the choices aren’t so black and white -- those times when I truly need to use the force? Well, the other night I had an opportunity to test myself, to see if I’m truly on my way to becoming a Jedi Knight of Motherhood...

“Mommy, I want to be a clown! Can I draw on my face with magic markers to make me look like a clown?” Elizabeth asks.

“Sure, are the markers washable?” I ask, always thinking ahead.


“OK, go for it.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Michael warns from the other room.

“It’ll be OK -- they’re washable,” I say, full of confidence.
That Michael -- he always worries so much.

“But what if she draws on her eyes or lips?” he asks.

(sigh.) “OK, Lizzy. You can’t draw, or even get near, your eyes and lips. Understand?”


So, like a good little girl Elizabeth doesn’t draw anywhere near her eyes or lips. However, five minutes later she emerges naked and covered in marker like an African warrior, with patterns along her chest and legs and feet and...

“Look, Mommy! I drew on my butt and my vagina, too! See?” And indeed she has drawn on herself, with yellow marker, all over. Clearly I didn’t think far enough ahead.

Mommy, why do you have that funny look on your face?

Michael walks into the room with another kind of look on his face. “Great parenting, honey,” he smirks.

I growl, then I use the force.

OK, while Lizzy certainly took this to an unforeseen level (as is her way in life) it is not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. Sure it's a little shocking and unexpected, but hey it’s washable! She’s happy. She occupied herself while I made dinner. She didn’t draw on her sister. It’s all (relatively) good.

So, I regard this tribal/clown girl and say, “Yes. That’s pretty neat, honey. You sure got it everywhere, didn’t you? Now, can you put on some underwear? It’s almost time for dinner.”

“OK, mommy!” Elizabeth skips to her bedroom.

I smile after her, wink at Johnny, and silently thank Obi-wan. Then later, after Elizabeth and the dishes are scrubbed clean, I throw the yellow marker away...

To all you mothers out there, may the force be with you.


Walk the Line
by Johnny Cash

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you're mine, I walk the line

I find it very, very easy to be true
I find myself alone when each day is through
Yes, I'll admit that I'm a fool for you
Because you're mine, I walk the line

As sure as night is dark and day is light
I keep you on my mind both day and night
And happiness I've known proves that it's right
Because you're mine, I walk the line

You've got a way to keep me on your side
You give me cause for love that I can't hide
For you I know I'd even try to turn the tide
Because you're mine, I walk the line

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you're mine, I walk the line


Dating Trooper - Dating is Warfare March 12, 2008 at 4:18 PM  

I remember when Wine Guy gave me the "Is this really worth fighting over?" speech. It wasn't long after that I found out many women stumbled on the same issue - picking a parking spot. For whatever reason, men WILL NOT pick the parking spot that the woman points out. They will drive to the ends of the earth to find their OWN parking spot rather than take take one the woman pointed out just over there. It may be annoying, but - with Wine Guy's help - I learned there are many bigger issues to "cross the line" about.

Oh, and props to any mother who actually apologizes to her child. My mom still has a hard time figuring that one out.

Bookdiva March 12, 2008 at 6:32 PM  

Sometimes knowing when to apologize is even harder than knowing when to fight the battle. I try not to apologize too much, because after all, Mommy is supposed to be infallible. I don't remember my mother ever apologizing to me once in my entire childhood for exerting her authority, and I don't resent her for it. She was "Mean Mom," whom I try to emulate, because Mean Moms are good moms. Not "mean" as in lock you in a dark closet, but mean as in there are rules, and if you break them, there are consequences.

I learned the hard way with my eldest, and am much more easy-going with the younger one. But certain things are non-negotiable:
- You must brush your teeth and wash your face and hands every morning and night. Period.
- You must wear your seat belt in the car.
- You must wear clothes that are clean, unstained, intact, and weather-appropriate.
- On major special occasions (like Christmas), Mommy gets to pick your clothes.
- No TV on weekday mornings.
- (For the eldest) Homework must be done in your room, and it must be complete before you can watch TV.
- You must be polite and respectful, or pay the consequences.
- You may not express disgust at anyone's food of any kind, even if you don't like it.

Aside from that, everything else is pretty negotiable. Get dirty! Wear pink and yellow! Wear your tiara to school! Bounce on the bed! Make a pillow fort! Splash in puddles (wearing rain boots)! SEE IF I CARE!

Dawn March 13, 2008 at 10:49 AM  

Great post. And I love that song.

Just be thankful the marker was washable and not a pink NON WASHABLE hi lighter.

I've apologized to Daelyn a couple of times and I think in addition to showing us as moms that we do make mistakes it shows the tots that people do need to apologize for the wrong things they have done.

Rima March 13, 2008 at 11:13 AM  

I struggle with picking my battles, too. Unfortunately, more often than not, I err on the side of warmongering. I'm glad you wrote this post, because it reminded me to put things in perspective.

May the force be with you.

Michele March 18, 2008 at 6:25 PM  

I have to tell you, I really really hope I get to have another child someday soon and I really, really hope I have another little girl : ) Aren't they too fun???

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