In my post about “A” Week I mentioned that I was reading A Little Way of Homeschooling. I’ve almost finished the book now and am finding myself slowing down to savor the last few pages. The last chapter is a protracted meditation on gentleness, which Suzie Andres calls “The Way of the Saints”. This chapter includes a beautiful passage from St John Bosco on education with gentleness. It seems to be exactly what I need right now. Oh very much what I need.
Reading this book on unschooling has led me on a little rabbit trail away from the subject of homeschooling and onto the path of St Therese. Her happy face smiles at me from the cover, a gentle smile from within her white wimple.
I suppose it was this book and perhaps Therese’s gentle nudge that led me to decide in desperation to begin a novena to St Therese, my Sophia Therese’s patron saint. When Sophie and I kept coming head to head in violent altercations, my own anger and frustration at my lack of control so perfectly mirrored in the stubborn three year-old who will dig in her heels and refuse to speak or will speak only one word—Up—at the most inconvenient times when I absolutely cannot pick her up or who will choose anything so long as it is something I cannot give her. So we began a novena and, as usual, after three or four days I forgot to pray it; but even so I think St Therese understands and still listens to our prayer. The day after we began our novena we found roses that had been blown off the bushes near Target by Hurricane Irene. The prayers have certainly seemed to help Sophie. Even more I think it’s helped me to begin to find my way.
I suspect it was also reading A Little Way of Homeschooling that led me to pick for my next read aloud with Bella an unexpected selection: Saint Therese and the Roses. It is just what the two of us need right now. On Thursday while Anthony was sleeping and Sophie and Ben had gone to Target with Auntie Tree Bella and I curled up together on the couch and read our chapter about St Therese and then afterward listened to the rain and had a cozy chat. Bella said the thunder sounded like the garbage cans rumbling up the driveway and I joked that the angels were rolling God’s garbage cans up the driveway in heaven.
Then somehow one thing led to another and we found ourselves talking about anger and regrets. Was it because of something Bella had asked about the story? About Therese’s sister Leonie who had such struggles of her own? Or about the girls at school who picked on Therese? Somehow we began to talk about how hard it is to be gentle and kind, to not hit and kick and yell when our anger and frustration boils over. And I found myself asking Bella if it was ok if we added working on that to our list of subjects for school this year. She agreed that perhaps we could both be students together. And when I asked who our teacher could be, she said no one. And then smiled in agreement when I suggested that perhaps Jesus and the saints could be our teachers. Especially St Therese. And Bella added St Anthony too.
And so we have a new course of study to follow: Lessons in gentleness.
I�ve been having some success in seeing the situation as God must. I know he wouldn�t be as harsh as I am with myself. Once I actually sat down and thought through exactly what he might say on one of those occasions when I was at my worst, I saw that he was laughing at me in the same bemused way that I am able to sometimes do with the worst three year-old meltdown: Oh poor child, this is so hard right now; but I know it will pass and you will grow out of it eventually and be able to laugh at yourself.
As I�ve been able to laugh at myself, I�ve also started to try to help my girls see the ridiculous in their angry battles and hitting and kicking. Do you really think slapping your sister is going to make her want to share the doll with you? Would that work if she did it to you? A few times I�ve got Bella to laugh at the silliness of her biting Sophie�s arm and kicking her. And I am better able to laugh at it too instead of flying into a rage at how bad they are being and what a terrible parent I must be because I�ve modeled poor ways of dealing with anger.
For a long time I was praying for patience. And I seemed to make no progress in growing in patience. Then I decided to stop praying for patience and instead pray for gentleness. I feel like I’ve actually gained some ground in that pursuit. And in the process am in fact a bit more patient. Who knew?