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Monday, June 07, 2004

Calling on saintly patronage

I don't like my youngest child much these days. He has tried my patience beyond the threshold of tolerance. Don't get me wrong, I love the kid to pieces. He's just not much fun these days. He and I are embattled in our own little war of the roses. It reached its pinnacle yesterday morning at church after brewing for the better part of a month. He started the moment we sat down. He wanted me to hold him, which I don't mind except that he weighs nearly 46 pounds and he likes to kick his legs. Physically, he's a lot to handle.

When I passed him off to his dad, he started with the "I want mommy" thing. All around us kids his age were looking through books, sitting quietly and there we were in a near-wrestling match with this kid who doesn't understand the meaning of stop and no.

I suppose it's our own fault. He's so much younger than his older brothers and we indulged him often as a baby. Now we're paying the price. Finally, at the end of mass yesterday, when he had head-butted me in the rear one too many times, I threw a hip his way (and I mean hard!) and knocked him into his dad. It was a childish reaction on my part, but I'd had it and screaming in mass wasn't an option.

My husband looked at me as if to say "Why do you fight him?" The short answer is: He pissed me off! But the real reason I fight him is because I feel responsible for the person he is and I'll be darned if my youngest is going to grow up to be a selfish little snot. I'm clamping down on the youngun' hard and he's fighting me every step of the way. I'm betting I've got more staying (or fire) power in this battle.

If only being a mom were as simple as administering a hip-check. The reality is once I do something like that or scream in my child's face (which I did on Thursday night), the guilt over how I've treated my own flesh is overwhelming, often reducing me to tears. The bottom line is, when I get like that with Michael, I have to take a break, take a moment to remember the joys of a 5-year-old—curiosity, playfulness, laughter, boo-boos, cuddling, storytime.

He's not the only kid to behave this way. I recall just before his brothers started kindergarten they, too, had major behavior issues. It's like preschool puberty is raging through him as he straddles the world of Sesame Street and that of Teen Nick. He's alternately wanting to be a baby and trying desperately to be a big kid like his much-older brothers. In my saner moments, I can see that struggle and empathize with him.

But when we've been together for days on end and he starts the morning screaming at me about finding his basketball shirt, I frankly want to run away. This morning, I very calmly sent him back upstairs and told him to start over. I couldn't endure another day like yesterday, and the day before and the day before….

After he was born, many people warned me that I shouldn't have named him Michael. Didn't I know that Michaels were notoriously mischievous, troublesome, downright hell-raisers? No, I didn't.

What I do know is that I love the name Michael. It sounds both strong and compassionate. He's named for St. Michael the Archangel, which in Hebrew means "Who is like God." His name was the war-cry of the good angels in the battle fought in heaven against Satan. St. Michael also was the great heavenly physician. The Christians of Egypt placed their life-giving river, the Nile under the protection of St. Michael. And so he was a great warrior and healer. Not a bad combination for a patron saint.

When I'm embroiled in a battle of wills with my Michael, I try to remember that this child has tenacity that his brothers did not at his age. I may curse it at times, but it's something he inherited from his mother. In the end I will simply pray for patience and the ability to accept him as he is, both strong and strong-willed.

And, in the name of motherhood, I will invoke the name of St. Ann, my patron saint, and the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I'm reminded, suddenly, of one of grandfather's and father's favorite sayings: "This too shall pass."

Steady there, Wendy. Time is so fleeting. Remember to savor the little moments.

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